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WALTER BESANT 

AND 

HENRY JAMES 



THE 



ART OF FICTION 



CORNELL 

UNIVERSITY 

LIBRARY 




STEPHEN E. WHICHER 
MEMORIAL BOOK COLLECTION 

Gift of 
MRS. ELIZABETH T. WHICHER 



_.. ^ Cornell University Library 

PN 3355.B55 1884a 



. Art of fiction 




3 1924 027 192 941 




The original of tliis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924027192941 



WALTER BESANT 

AND 

HENRY JAMES 



THE 



ART OF FICTION 



BOSTON 
CUPPLES AND HURD 



THE ART OF FICTION: 

A LECTURE 
Deliveked at the Royal Institution, Apbil 25, 1884. 



I DESiEE, this evening, to consider Fiction as one 
of the Fine Arts. In order to do this, and before 
doing it, I have first to advance certain propositions. 
They are not new, they are not likely to be disputed, 
and yet they have never been so generally received 
as to form part, so to speak, of the national mind. 
These propositions are three, though the last two 
directly spring from the first. They are : — 

1. That Fiction is an Art in every way worthy 
to be called the sister and the equal of the Arts 
of Painting, Sculpture, Music, and Poetry ; that is to 
say, her field is as boundless, her possibilities as vast, 
her excellences as worthy of admiration, as may be 
claimed for any of her sister Arts. 

2. That it is an Art which, like them, is governed 
and directed by general laws ; and that these laws 
may be laid down and taught with as much pre- 
cision and exactness as the laws of harmony, per- 
spective, and proportion. 

3. That, like the other Fine Arts, Fiction is so 
far removed from the mere mechanical arts, that 

3 



4 THE AET OP FICTION. 

no laws or rules whatever can teach it to those who 
have not already been endowed with the natural and 
necessary gifts. 

These are the three propositions which I have to 
discuss. It follows as a corollary and evident deduc- 
tion that, these propositions once admitted, those 
who follow and profess the Art of Fiction must be 
recognized as artists, in the strictest sense of the 
word, just as much as those who have delighted 
and elevated mankind by music and painting ; and 
that the great Masters of Fiction must be placed on 
the same level as the great Masters in the other 
Arts. In other words, I mean that where the highest 
point, or what seems the highest point, possible in 
this Art is touched, the man who has reached it is 
one of the world's greatest men. 

I cannot suppose that there are any in this room 
who would refuse to admit these propositions; on 
the contrary, they will seem to most here self-evident ; 
yet the application of theory to practice, of principle 
to persons, may be more difficult. For instance, so 
boundless is the admiration for great Masters such 
as Raphael or Mozart, that if one were to propose 
that Thackeray should be placed beside them, on the 
same level, and as an equal, there would be felt by 
most a certain shock. I am not suggesting that 
the art of Thackeray is to be compared with that 
of Raphael, or that there is any similarity in the 
work of the two men ; I only say that, Fiction being 
one Art, and Painting another and a sister Art, 



THE ART OP FICTION. 5 

those who attain the highest possible distinction in 
either are equal. 

Let us, however, go outside this room, among the 
multitudes by whom a novelist has never been con- 
sidered an artist at all. To them the claim that a 
great novelist should be considered to occupy the 
same level as a great musician, a great painter, or a 
great poet, would appear at first a thing ludicrous 
and even painful. Consider for a moment how the 
world at large regards the novelist. He is, in their 
eyes, a person who tells stories, just as they used to 
regard the actor as a man who tumbled on the stage 
to make the audience laugh, and a musician as a 
man who fiddled to make the people dance. This 
is the old way of thinking, and most peojale think 
first as they have been taught to think ; and next 
as they see others think. It is therefore quite 
easy to understand why the art of novel-writing 
has always been, by the general mass, undervalued. 
First, while the leaders in every other branch 
of Art, in every department of Science, and in 
every kind of profession, receive their share of the 
ordinary national distinctions, no one ever hears 
of honors being bestowed upon novelists. Neither 
Thackeray nor Dickens was ever, so far as I know, 
offered a Peerage ; neither King, Queen, nor Prince 
in any country throughout the whole world takes 
the least notice of them. I do not say they would 
be any the better for this kind of recognition, but 
its absence clearly proves, to those who take their 



6 THE ART OF PICTIOX. 

opinions from others, that they are not a class at all 
worthy of special honor. Then again, in the modern 
craze which exists for every kind of art — so that 
we meet everywhere, in every household, amateur 
actors, painters, etchers, sculptors, modellers, musi- 
cians, and singers, all of them serious and earnest in 
their aims — amateur novelists alone regard their 
Art as one which is learned by intuition. Thirdly, 
novelists are not associated as are painters; they 
hold no annual exhibitions, dinners, or conversazioni; 
they put no letters after their name; they have 
no President or Academy ; and they do not them- 
selves seem desirous of being treated as followers 
of a special Art. I do not say that they are wrong, 
or that much would be gained for Art if all the 
novelists of England were invited to Court and 
created into a Royal Academy. But I do say that 
for these three reasons it is easy to understand 
how the world at large does not even suspect that 
the writing of novels is one of the Fine Arts, and 
why they regard the story-teller with a sort of con- 
tempt. It is, I acknowledge, a kindly contempt — 
even an affectionate contempt; it is the contempt 
which the practical man feels for the dreamer, the 
strong man for the weak, the man who can do for 
the man who can only look on and talk. 

The general — the Philistine — view of the Pro- 
fession is, first of all, that it is not one which a 
scholar and a man of serious views should take up : 
the telling of stories is inconsistent with a well- 



THE ART OF FICTION. 7 

balanced mind ; to be a teller of stories disqualifies 
one from a hearing on important subjects. At this 
very day there are thousands of living people who 
will never understand how the author of "Con- 
ingsby " and " Vivian Grey " can possibly be re- 
garded as a serious statesman — all the Disraeli 
literature, even to the comic cartoons, expresses the 
popular sentiment that a novelist must not presume 
to call himself a statesman : the intellect of a novel- 
ist, it is felt, if he have any intellect at all, which is 
doubtful, must be one of the most frivolous and 
lightest kind ; how can a man whose mind is always 
full of the loves of Corydon and Amaryllis be trusted 
to form an opinion on practical matters? When 
Thackeray ventured to contest the city of Oxford, 
we know what happened. He thought his failure 
was because the people of Oxford had never even 
heard of him ; I think otherwise. I think it was 
because it was whispered from house to house and 
was carried from shop to shop, and was mentioned 
in the vestry, that this fellow from London, who 
asked for their votes, was nothing but a common 
novelist. 

"With these people must not be confounded 
another class, not so large, who are prepared to 
admit that Fiction is in some qualified sense an 
Art ; but they do this as a concession to the vanity 
of its followers, and are by no means prepared to 
allow that it is an Art of the first rank. How can 
that be an Art, they might ask, which has no 



8 THE ART OF FICTION. 

lecturers or teachers, no school or college or Aca- 
demy, no recognized rules, no text-books, and is not 
taught in any University? Even the German 
Universities, which teach everything else, do not 
have Professors of Fiction, and not one single 
novelist, so far as I know, has ever pretended to 
teach his mystery, or spoken of it as a thing which 
may be taught. Clearly, therefore, they would go 
on to argue, such art as is required for the making 
and telling of a story can and must be mastered 
without study, because no materials exist for the 
student's use. It may even, perhaps, be acquired 
unconsciously or by imitation. This view, I am 
sorry to say, largely prevails among the majority of 
those who try their chance in the field of fiction. 
Anyone, they think, can write a novel ; therefore, 
why not sit down and write one? I would not 
willingly say one word which might discourage 
those who are attracted to this branch of litera- 
ture ; on the contrary, I would encourage them in 
every possible way. One desires, however, that 
they should approach their work at the outset with 
the same serious and earnest appreciation of its 
importance and its difiiculties with which they 
undertake the study of music and painting. I 
would wish, in short, that from the very begin- 
ning their minds should be fully possessed with the 
knowledge that Fiction is an Art, and, like all other 
Arts, that it is governed by certain laws, methods, 
and rules, which it is their first business to learn. 



THE ART OF FICTIOW. 9 

It is then, first and before all, a real Art. It is 
the oldest, because it was known and practised long 
before Painting and her sisters were in existence or 
even thought of ; it is older than any of the Muses 
from whose company she who tells stories has 
hitherto been excluded ; it is the most widely 
spread, because in no race of men under the sun is 
it unknown, even though the stories may be always 
the same, and handed down from generation to 
generation in the same form; it is the most re- 
ligious of all the Arts, because in every age until 
the present the lives, exploits, and sufferings of 
gods, goddesses, saints, and heroes have been the 
favorite theme ; it has always been the most popu- 
lar, because it requires neither culture, education, 
nor natural genius to understand and listen to a 
story ; it is the most moral, because the world has 
always been taught whatever little morality it pos- 
sesses by way of story, fable, apologue, parable, and 
allegory. It commands the widest influence, be- 
cause it can be carried easily and everywhere, into 
regions where pictures are never seen and music 
is never heard; it is the greatest teaching power, 
because its lessons are most readily apprehended 
and understood. All this, which might have been 
said thousands of years ago, may be said to-day 
with even greater force and truth. That world 
which exists not, but is an invention or an imita- 
tion — that world in which the shadows and shapes 
of men move about before our eyes as real as if 



10 THE ART OP FICTION. 

they were actually living and speaking among us, is 
like a great theatre accessible to all of every sort, on 
whose stage are enacted, at our own sweet will, 
whenever we please to command them, the most 
beautiful plays : it is, as every theatre should be, the 
school in which manners are learned : here the ma- 
jority of reading mankind leani nearly all that 
they know of life and manners, of philosophy and 
art ; even of science and religion. The modern 
novel converts abstract ideas into living models ; it 
gives ideas, it strengthens faith, it preaches a higher 
morality than is seen in the actual world ; it com- 
mands the emotions of pity, admiration, and terror; 
it creates and keeps alive the sense of sympathy ; it 
is the universal teacher ; it is the only book which 
the great mass of reading mankind ever do read ; it 
is the only way in which people can learn what 
other men and women are like; it redeems their 
lives from dulness, puts thoughts, desires, know- 
ledge, and even ambitions into their hearts : it 
teaches them to talk, and enriches their speech with 
epigrams, anecdotes and illustrations. It is an un- 
failing source of delight to millions, happily not too 
critical. Why, out of all the books taken down 
from the shelves of the public libraries, four-fifths 
are novels, and of all those that are bought nine- 
tenths are novels. Compared with this tremendous 
engine of popular influence, what are all the other 
Arts put together? Can we not alter the old 
maxim, and say with truth, Let him who pleases 
make the laws if I may write the novels ? 



THE AET OF FICTION. 11 

As for the field with which this Art of Fiction 
occupies itself, it is, if you please, nothing less than 
the whole of Humanity. The novelist studies men 
and women ; he is concerned with their actions and 
their thoughts, their errors and their follies, their 
greatness and their meanness ; the countless forms 
of beauty and constantly varying moods to be seen 
among them ; the forces which act upon them ; the 
passions, prejudices, hopes and fears which pull 
them this way and that. He has to do, above all, 
and before all, with men and women. No one, for 
instance, among novelists, can be called a landscape 
painter, or a painter of sea-pieces, or a painter of 
fruit and flowers, save only in strict subordination 
to the group of characters with whom he is dealing. 
Landscape, sea, sky, and air, are merely accessories 
introduced in order to set off and bring into greater 
prominence the figures on the stage. The very first 
rule in Fiction is that the human interest must 
absolutely absorb everything else. Some writers 
never permit anything at all in their pages which 
shall divert our thoughts one moment from the 
actors. When, for instance, Charles Reade — Alas ! 
that we must say the late Charles Reade, for he is 
dead — when this great Master of Fiction, in his 
incomparable tale of the " Cloister and the Hearth," 
sends Gerard and Denis the Burgundian on that 
journey through France, it is with the fewest pos- 
sible of words that he suggests the sights and 
persons met with on the way ; yet, so great is the 



12 THE AET OP FICTION. 

ait of the writer, that, almost without beiiig told, 
we see the road, a mere rough track, winding be- 
side the river and along the valleys ; we see the 
silent forests where lurk the routiers and the rob- 
bers, the cut-throat inn, the merchants, peasants, 
beggars, soldiers who go riding by ; the writer does 
not pause in his story to tell us of all this, but yet 
we feel it — by the mere action of the piece and the 
dialogue we are compelled to see the scenery : the 
life of the fifteenth century passes before us, with 
hardly a word to picture it, because it is always kept 
in the background, so as not to interfere with the cen- 
tral figure of the young clerk journeying to Rome. 

The human interest in Fiction, then, must come 
before aught else. It is of this world, wholly of 
this world. It might seem at first as if the limita^ 
tion of this Art to things human placed it on a 
lower level than the Arts of Painting and Music. 
That, however, is not so. The stupendous subjects 
which were undertaken by the old Italian painters 
are, it is true, beyond the power of Fiction to 
attempt. It may be questioned whether they are 
not also, according to modern ideas, beyond the 
legitimate scope of painting. Certainly, just as there 
is nothing in the whole of creation more worthy 
of being studied and painted than the human face 
and form, so there is nothing more worthy of repre- 
sentation than men and women in action and in pas- 
sion. The ancient poet placed the gods themselves 
upon the stage with the Furies and the Fates. Then 



THE ART OF FIOTIOX. 13 

we had the saints, confessors, and martyrs. We 
next descended to kings and great lords; in our 
times painter, poet, and novelist alike are contented 
with plain humanity, whether crowned or in rags. 
What picture, let us ask, what picture ever painted 
of angels and blessed souls, even if they are mount- 
ing the hill on which stands the Four Square City of 
the jasper wall, is able to command our interest and 
sympathy more profoundly than the simple and 
faithful story, truly and faithfully told, of a lover 
and his mistress ? 

It is, therefore, the especial characteristic of this 
Art, that, since it deals exclusively with men and 
women, it not only requires of its followers, but also 
creates in readers, that sentiment which is destined 
to be a most mighty engine in deepening and widen- 
ing the civilization of the world. We call it Sym- 
pathy, but it means a great deal more than was for- 
merly understood by the word. It means, in fact, 
what Professor Seeley once called the Enthusiasm 
of Humanity, and it first appeared, I think, about a 
hundred and fifty years ago, when the modern novel 
came into existence. You will find it, for instance, 
conspicuous for its absence in Defoe. The modern 
Sympathy includes not only the power to pity the 
sufferings of others, but also that of understanding 
their very souls ; it is the reverence for man, the 
respect for his personality, the recognition of his in- 
dividuality, and the enormous value of the one man, 
the perception of one man's relation to another, his 



14 THE AET OF FICTION. 

duties and responsibilities. Through the strength 
of this newly-born faculty, and aided by the guid- 
ance of a great artist, we are enabled to discern the 
real indestructible man beneath the rags and filth of 
a common castaway, and the possibilities of the mean- 
est gutter-child that steals in the streets for its daily 
bread. Sui-ely that is a wonderful Art which en- 
dows the people — all the people — with this powei 
of vision and of feeling. Painting has not done it, 
and could never do it ; Painting has done more for 
nature than for humanity. Sculpture could not do it, 
because it deals with situation and foi-m rather than 
action. Music cannot do it, because Music (if I un- 
derstand rightly) appeals especially to the individual 
concerning himself and his own aspirations. Poetry 
alone is the rival of Fiction, and in this respect it 
takes a lower place, not because Poetry fails to teach 
and interpret, but because Fiction is, and must always 
be, more popular. 

Again, this Art teaches, like the others, by sup- 
pression and reticence. Out of the gi-eat procession 
of Humanity, the Comedie Skimaine which the nov- 
elist sees passing ever before his eyes, single figures 
detach themselves one after the other, to be ques- 
tioned, examined, and received or rejected. This 
process goes on perpetually. Humanity is so vast a 
field that to one who goes about watching men and 
women, and does not sit at home and evolve figures 
out of inner consciousness, there is not, and can never 
be, any end or limit to the freshness and interest of 



THE ART OF FICTION. 15 

these figures. It is the work of the artist to select 
the figures, to suppress, to copy, to group, and to 
work up the incidents which each one offers. The 
daily life of the world is not dramatic — it is monot- 
onous ; the novelist makes it dramatic by his silences, 
his suppressions, and his exaggerations. No one, 
for example, in fiction behaves quite in the same 
way as in real life ; as on the stage, if an actor un- 
folds and reads a lettei", the simple action is done 
with an exaggeration of gesture which calls atten- 
tion to the thing and to its importance ; so in ro- 
mance, while nothing should be allowed which does 
not carry on the story, so everything as it occurs 
must be accentuated and yet deprived of needless 
accessory details. The gestures of the characters at 
an important juncture, their looks, their voices, may 
all be noted if they help to impress the situation. 
Even the weather, the wind and the rain, with some 
writers, have been made to emphasize a mood or a 
passion of a heroine. To know how to use these 
aids artistically is to the novelist exactly what to 
the actor is the right presentation of a letter, the 
handing of a chair, even the removal of a glove. 

A third characteristic of Fiction, which should 
alone be sufficient to give it a place among the no- 
blest forms of Art, is that, like Poetry, Painting, and 
Music, it becomes a vehicle, not only for the best 
thoughts of the writer, but also for those of the 
reader, so that a novelist may write truthfully and 
faithfully, but simply, and yet be understood in a 



16 THE ART OF FICTION. 

far fuller and nobler sense than was present to his 
own mind. This power is the very highest gift of 
the poet. He has a vision and sees a thing clearly, 
yet perhaps afar off ; another who reads him is en- 
abled to get the same vision, to see the same thing, 
yet closer and more distinctly. For a lower intel- 
lect thus to lead and instruct a higher is surely a 
very great gift, and granted only to the highest 
forms of Art. And this it is which Fiction of the 
best kind does for its readers. It is, however, only 
another way of saying that Truth in Fiction pro- 
duces effects similar to those produced by Truth in 
every other Art. 

So far, then, I have showed that this Art of Fic- 
tion is the most ancient of all Arts and the most 
popular ; that its field is the whole of humanity ; 
that it creates and develops that sympathy which is 
a kind of second sight ; that, like all other Arts, its 
function is to select, to suppress, and to arrange ; 
that it suggests as well as narrates. More might be 
said — a great deal more — but enough has been said 
to show that in these, the leading characteristics 
of any Art, Fiction is on exactly the same level as 
her sisters. Let me only add that in this Art, as in 
the others, there is, and will be always, whatever 
has been done already, something new to discover, 
something new to express, something new to de- 
scribe. Surgeons dissect the body, and account for 
every bone and every nerve, so that the body of one 
man, considered as a collection of bones and nerves. 



THE ART OF FICTION. 17 

is SO far exactly like the body of another man. But 
the mind of man cannot be so exhausted : it yields 
discoveries to every patient student ; it is absolutely 
inexhaustible ; it is to every one a fresh and virgin 
field: and the most successful investigator leaves 
regions and tracts for his successor as vast as those 
he has himself gone over. Perhaps, after all, the 
greatest Psychologist is not the metaphysician, but 
the novelist. 

We come next to speak of the Laws which gov- 
ern this Art. I mean those general rules and prin- 
ciples which must necessarily be acquired by every 
writer of Fiction before he can even hope for suc- 
cess. Rules will not make a man a novelist, any more 
than a knowledge of grammar makes a man know a 
language, or a knowledge of musical science makes 
a man able to play an instrument. Yet the Rules 
must be learned. And, in speaking of them, one is 
compelled, so close is the connection between the 
sister Arts, to use not only the same terms, but also 
to adopt the same rules, as those laid down by paint- 
ers for their students If these Laws appear self- 
evident, it is a proof that the general principles of 
the Art are well understood. Considering, however, 
the vast quantity of bad, inartistic work which is 
every week laid before the public, one is inclined to 
think that a statement of these principles may not 
be without usefulness. 

First, and before eveiything else, there is the Rule 
that everything in Fiction which is invented and is 



18 THE AET OF FICTION. 

not tlie result of personal experience and observation 
is worthless. In some other Arts, the design may 
follow any lines which the designer pleases : it may 
be fanciful, unreal, or grotesque ; but in modem 
Fiction, whose sole end, aim, and purpose is to por- 
tray humanity and human character, the design 
.must be in accordance with the customs and gen- 
eral practice of living men and women under any 
proposed set of circumstances and conditions. That 
is to say, the characters must be real, and such as 
might be met with in actual life, or, at least, the 
natural developments of such people as any of us 
might meet ; their actions must be natural and con- 
sistent ; the conditions of place, of manners, and of 
thought must be drawn from personal observation. 
To take an extreme case : a young lady brought up 
in a quiet country village should avoid descriptions 
of garrison life ; a writer whose friends and personal 
experiences belong to what we call the lower middle 
class should carefully avoid introducing his charac- 
ters into Society; a South-countryman would hesi- 
tate before attempting to reproduce the North- 
country accent. This is a very simple Rule, but 
one to which tliere should be no exception — never 
to go beyond your own experience.* Remember 

* It has been objected to this Eule that, if followed, it 
would entirely shut out the historical novel. Kot at all. The 
interest of tfte historical novel, as of any othernovel, depends 
upon the experience and knowledge which the writer has of 
humanity, men and women being pretty much alike in all 
ages. It is not the setting that we regard, so much as the 



THE ART OP FICTION. 19 

that most of the people who read novels, and know 
nothing about the art of writing them, recognize 
before any other quality that of fidelity : the great- 
ness of a novelist they measure chiefly by the 
knowledge of the world displayed in his pages ; 
the highest praise they can bestow upon him is that 
he has drawn the story to the life. It is exactly 
the same with a picture. If you go to the Academy 
any day, and listen to the comments of the crowd, 

acting of the characters. The setting in an historical novel 
is very often absurd, incorrect, and incongruous; but the 
human interest, the sliill and knowledge of character shown 
by the writer, may make us forget the errors of the setting. 
For instance, "Romola" is undoubtedly a great novel, not 
because it contains a true, and therefore valuable, reproduc- 
tion of Florentine life in the time of the early Renaissance, 
for it does not ; nor because it gives us the ideas of the age, 
for it does not ; the characters, especially that of the heroine, 
being fully of nineteenth century ideas : but it is great as a 
study of character. On the other hand, in the "Cloister 
and the Hearth," we do really have a description of the time 
and its ideas, taken bodily, sometimes almost literally, from 
the pages of the man who most truly represents them — 
Erasmus. So that here is a rule for the historical novelist 
— when he must describe, he must borrow. If it be objected, 
again, that he may do the same thing with contemporary 
life, I reply that he may, if he please, but he will most 
assuredly be found out through some blunder, omission, or 
confusion caused by ignorance. No doubt the same blunders 
are perpetrated by the historical novelist; but these are not 
so readily found out except by an archaeologist. Of course, 
one who desires to reproduce a time gone by would not go 
to the poets, the divines, the historians, so much as to the 
familiar literature, the letters, comedies, tales, essayists, and 
newspapers. 



20 THE ART OF FICTION. 

■which is a very instructive thing to do, and one 
recommended to young novelists, you will presently 
become aware that the only thing they look for in a 
picture is the story which it tells, and therefore the 
fidelity with which it is presented on the canvas. 
Most of the other qualities of the picture, and of the 
novel as well, all that has to do with the technique, 
escape the general observer. 

This being so, the first thing which has to be 
acquired is the art of description. It seems easy 
to describe ; any one, it seems, can set down what 
he sees. But consider. How much does he see? 
There is everywhere, even in a room, such a quan- 
tity of things to be seen : far, far more in field and 
hedge, in mountain and in forest and beside the 
stream, are there countless things to be seen; the 
unpractised eye sees nothing, or next to nothing. 
Here is a tree, here is a flower, there is sunshine 
lying on the hill. But to the observant and trained 
eye, the intelligent eye, there lies before him every- 
where an inexhaustible and bewildering mass of 
things to see. Remember how Mr. Jefferies sits 
down in a coppice with his eyes wide open to see 
what the rest of us never dreamed of looking for. 
Long before he has half finished telling us what he 
has seen^ — behold! a volume, and one of the most 
delightful volumes conceivable. But, then, Mr. 
Jefferies is a profound naturalist. We cannot all 
describe after his manner; nor should we try, for 
the simple reason that descriptions of still life in a 



THE ART OF FICTION. 21 

novel must be strictly subordinated to the human 
interest. But while Mr. Jefferies has his hedge and 
ditch and brook, we have our towns, our villages, 
and our assemblies of men and women. Among 
them we must not only observe, but we must select. 
Here, then, are two distinct faculties which the in- 
tending novelist must acquire ; viz., observation and 
selection. As for the power of observation, it may 
be taught to any one by the simple method adopted 
by Robert Houdin, the French conjuror. This 
method consists of noting down continually and 
remembering all kinds of things remarked in the 
course of a journey, a walk, or the day's business. 
The learner must carry his note-book always with 
him, into the fields, to the theatre, into the streets 
— wherever he can watch man and his ways, or 
Nature and her ways. On his return home he 
should enter his notes in his commonplace-book. 
There are places where the production of a note- 
book would be embarrassing ^ say, at a dinner- 
party, or a street fight ; yet the man who begins to 
observe will speedily be able to remember every- 
thing that he sees and hears until he can find an 
opportunity to note it down, so that nothing is lost.* 

* I earnestly recommend those who desire to study this 
Art to begin by daily practice in the description of things, 
even common things, that they have observed, by reporting 
conversations, and by word portraits of their friends. They 
will find that the practice gives them firmness of outline, 
quickness of observation, power of catching important de- 
tails, and, as regards dialogue, readiness to see what is unim- 



22 THE ART OP FICTIOK. 

The materials for the novelist, in short, are not in 
the books upon the shelves, but in the men and 
women he meets with everywhere ; he will find 
them, where Dickens found them, in the crowded 
streets, in trains, tramcars and omnibuses, at the 
shop-windows, in churches and chapels: his ma- 
terials are everywhere — there is nothing too low, 
nothing too high, nothing too base, nothing too 
noble, for the novelist. Humanity is like a kaleido- 
scope, which you may turn about and look into, but 
you will never get the same picture twice — it can- 
not be exhausted. But it may be objected, that the 
broad distinctive types have been long since all used. 
They have been used, but the comfort is that they 
can never be used up, and that they may be con- 
stantly used again and again. Can we ever be tired 
of them when a master hand takes one of them 
again and gives him new life ? Are there to be no 
more hypocrites because we have already had Tar- 
tufe and Pecksniff? Do we suppose that the old 
miser, the young spendthrift, the gambler, the ad- 
venturer, the coquette, the drunkard, the soldier of 
fortune, are never to reappear, because they have 
been handled already? As long, on the contrary, 
as man shall continue story-telling, so long wiU these 
characters occur again and again, and look as fresh 

portant. Preliminary practice and study of this kind wilt 
also lead to the saving of a vast quantity of valuable material, 
which is only wasted by being prematurely worked up into 
a novel written before the elements of the Art have been 
acquired. 



THE ART 0#*FICTIOK. 23 

each time that they are treated by a master's hand 
as if they were newly discovered types. 

Fidelity, therefore, can be only assured by acquiring 
the art of observation, which further assists in filling 
the mind with stored experience. I am quite sure 
that most men never see anything at all. I have 
known men who have even gone all round the world 
and seen nothing — no, nothing at all. Emerson 
says, very truly, that a traveller takes away nothing 
from a place except what he brought into it. Now, 
the observation of things around us is no part of the 
ordinary professional and commercial life; it has 
nothing at all to do with success and the making of 
money; so that we do not learn to observe. Yet 
it is very easy to shake people and make them open 
their eyes. Some of us remember, for instance, the 
time when Kingsley astonished everybody with his 
descriptions of the wonders to be seen on the sea- 
shore and to be fished out of every pond in the field. 
Then all the world began to poke about the seaweed 
and to catch tritons and keep water-grubs in little 
tanks. It was only a fashion, and it presently died 
out ; but it did people good, because it made them 
understand, perhaps for the first time, that there 
really is a good deal more to see than meets the 
casual eye. At present the lesson which we need 
is not that the world is full of the most strange and 
wonderful creatures, all eating each other perpetu- 
ally, but that the world is full of the most wonderful 
men and women, not one of whom is mean or 



24 THE AElP'OF PICTIOK. 

common, but to each his own personality is a great 
and awful thing, worthy of the most serious study. 

There are, then, abundant materials waiting to be 
picked up by any who has the wit to see them lying 
at his feet and all around him. What is next re- 
quired is the power of Selection. Can this be taught ? 
I think not, at least I do not know how, unless it is by 
reading. In every Art, selection requires that kind 
of special fitness for the Art which is included in the 
much abused word Genius. In Fiction the power 
of selection requires a large share of the dramatic 
sense. Those who already possess this faculty will 
not go wrong if they bear in mind the simple rule 
that nothing should be admitted which does not 
advance the story, illustrate the characters, bring into 
stronger relief the hidden forces which act upon them, 
their emotions, their passions, and their intentions. 
All descriptions which hinder instead of helping the 
action, all episodes of whatever kind, all conversation 
which does not either advance the story or illustrate 
the characters, ought to be rigidly suppressed. 

Closely connected with selection is dramatic pre- 
sentation. Given a situation, it should be the first 
care of the writer to present it as dramatically, that 
is to say as forcibly, as possible. The grouping and 
setting of the picture, the due subordination of 
description to dialogue, the rapidity of the action, 
those things which naturally suggest themselves to 
the practised eye, deserve to be very carefully con- 
sidered by the beginner. In fact, a novel is like a 



THE ART OF FICTION. 25 

play : it may be divided into scenes and acts, tab- 
leaus and situations, separated by the end of the 
chapter instead of the drop-scene: the writer is 
the dramatist, stage-manager, scene-painter, actor, 
and carpenter, all in one; it is his single business 
to see that none of the scenes flag or fall flat : he 
must never for one moment forget to consider how 
the piece is looking from the front. 

The next simple Rule is that the drawing of each 
figure must be clear in outline, and, even if only 
sketched, must be sketched without hesitation. 
This can only be done when the writer himself 
sees his figures clearly. Characters in fiction do 
not, it must be understood, spring Minervarlike from 
the brain. They grow : they grow sometimes slowly, 
sometimes quickly. From the first moment of con- 
ception, that is to say, from the first moment of 
their being seen and caught, they grow continuously 
and almost without mental effort. If they do not 
grow and become every day clearer, they had better 
be put aside at once, and forgotten as soon as may 
be, because that is a proof that the author does not 
understand the character he has himself endeavored 
to create. To have on one's hands a half-created 
being without the power of finishing him must be a 
truly dreadful thing. The only way out of it is to 
kill and bury him at once. I have always thought, 
for instance, that the figure of Daniel Deronda, 
whose portrait, blurred and uncertain as it is, 
has been drawn with the most amazing care and 



26 THE AKT OF FICTION. 

with endless touches and retouches, must have 
become at last to George Eliot a kind of awful 
veiled spectre, always in her brain, always seeming 
about to reveal his true features and his mind, but 
never doing it, so that to the end she never clearly 
perceived what manner of man he was, nor what 
was his real character. Of course, what the author 
cannot set down, the reader cannot understand. On 
the other hand, how possible, how capable of devel- 
opment, how real becomes a true figure, truly under- 
stood by the creator, and truly depicted ! Do we 
not know what they would say and think under all 
conceivable conditions ? We can dress them as we 
will ; we can place them in any circumstances of 
life : we can always trust them because they will 
never fail us, never disappoint us, never change, 
because we understand them so thoroughly. So 
well do we know them that they become our ad- 
visers, our guides, and our best friends, on whom we 
model ourselves, our thoughts, and our actions. 
The writer who has succeeded in drawing to the 
life, true, clear, distinct, so that all may understand, 
a single figure of a true man or woman, has added 
another exemplar or warning to humanity. Nothing, 
then, it must be insisted upon as of the greatest im- 
portance, should be begun in writing until the 
characters are so clear and distinct in the brain, so 
well known, that they will act their parts, bend 
their dialogue, and suit their action to whatever 
situations they may find themselves in, if only they 



THE ART OP FICTION. 27 

are becoming to them. Of course, clear outline 
drawing is best when it is accomplished in the 
fewest strokes, and the greater part of the figures in 
Fiction, wherein it differs from Painting, in which 
everything should be finished, require no more work 
upon them, in order to make them clear, than half- 
a-dozen bold, intelligible lines. 

As for the methods of conveying a clear under- 
standing of a character, they are many. The first 
and the easiest is to make it clear by reason of some 
mannerism or personal peculiarity, some trick of 
speech or of carriage. This is the worst, as may 
generally be said of the easiest way. Another easy 
method is to describe your character at length. This 
also is a bad, because a tedious, method. If, how- 
ever, you read a page or two of any good writer, 
you will discover that he first makes a character 
intelligible by a few words, and then allows him to 
reveal himself in action and dialogue. On the other 
hand, nothing is more inartistic than to be constantly 
calling attention in a dialogue to a gesture or a look, 
to laughter or to tears. The situation generally 
requires no such explanation : in some well-known 
scenes which I could quote, there is not a single 
word to emphasize or explain the attitude, manner, 
and look of the speakers, yet they are as intelli- 
gible as if they were written down and described. 
That Is the highest art which carries the reader 
along and makes him see, without being told, the 
changing expressions, the gestures of the speakers, 



28 THE ABT OP FICTIOK. 

and hear the varying tones of their voices. It is as 
if one should close one's eyes at the theatre, and yet 
continue to see the actors on the stage as well as 
hear their voices. The only writer who can do this 
is he who makes his characters intelligible from the 
very outset, causes them first to stand before the 
reader in clear outline, and then with every addi- 
tional line brings out the figure, fills up the face, 
and makes his creatures grow from the simple out- 
line more and more to the perfect and rounded 
figure. 

Clearness of drawing, which includes clearness of 
vision, also assists in producing directness of pur- 
pose. As soon as the actors in the story become 
real in the mind of the narrator, and not before, the 
story itself becomes real to him. More than this, he 
becomes straightway vehemently impelled to tell it, 
and he is moved to tell it in the best and most 
direct way, the most dramatic way, the most truth- 
ful way possible to him. It is, in fact, only when 
the writer believes his own story, and knows it to be 
every word true, and feels that he has somehow 
learned from everyone concerned the secret history 
of his own part in it, that he can really begin to 
write it.* We know how sometimes, even from a 

* Hardly anytliing is more important than this — to 
believe in your own story. Wherefore let the student re- 
member that unless the characters exist and move about in 
his brain, all separate, distinct, living, and perpetually en- 
gaged in the action of the story, sometimes at one part of it, 
sometimes at another, and that in scenes and places which 



THE AET OF FICTION. 29 

practised hand, there comes a work marred with the 
fatal defect that the writer does not believe in his 
own story. When this is the case, one may generally 
find on investigation that one cause at least of the 
failure is that the characters, or some of them, are 
blurred and uncertain. 

Again, the modern English novel, whatever form 
it takes, almost always starts with a conscious moral 
purpose. When it does not, so much are we ac- 
customed to expect it, that one feels as if there has 
been a debasement of the Art. It is, fortunately, 
not possible in this country for any man to defile 
and defame humanity and still be called an artist ; 
the development of modern sympathy, the growing 
reverence for the individual, the ever-widening love 
of things beautiful and the appreciation of lives 
made beautiful by devotion and self-denial, the 
sense of personal responsibility among the English- 
speaking races, the deep-seated religion of our peo- 
ple, even in a time of doubt, are all forces which act 
strongly upon the artist as well as upon his readers, 
and lend to his work, whether he will or not, a 
moral purpose so clearly marked that it has become 
practically a law of English Fiction. We must 
acknowledge that this is a truly admirable thing, 

must be omitted in the writing, he has got no story to tell 
and had better give it up. I do not think it is generally 
understood that there are thousands of scenes which belong 
to the story and never get outside the writer's brain at all. 
Some of these may be very beautiful and touching ; but 
there is not room for all, and the writer has to select. 



30 THE AKT OP FICTION. 

and a great cause for congi-atulation. At the same 
time, one may be permitted to think that the preach- 
ing novel is the least desirable of any, and to be 
unfeignedly rejoiced that the old religious novel, 
written in the interests of High Church or Low 
Church or any other Church, has gone out of 
fashion. 

Next, just as in Painting and Sculpture, not only 
are fidelity, truth, and harmony to be observed in 
Fiction, but also beauty of workmanship. It is 
almost impossible to estimate too highly the value 
of careful workmanship, that is, of style. Everyone, 
without exception, of the great Masters in Fiction, 
has recognized this truth. You wiU hardly find a 
single page in any of them which is not carefully 
and even elaborately worked up. I think there is 
no point on which critics of novels should place 
greater importance than this, because it is one 
which young novelists are so very liable to ignore. 
There ought not to be in a novel, any more than in 
a poem, a single sentence carelessly worded, a single 
phrase which has not been considered. Consider, if 
you please, any one of the great scenes in Fiction — 
how much of the effect is due to the style, the 
balanced sentences, the very words used by the 
narrator ! This, however, is only one more point of 
similarity between Fiction and the sister Arts. 
There is, I know, the danger of attaching too much 
attention to style at the expense of situation, and so 
falling a prey to priggishness, fashions, and man- 



THE ART OF FICTION. 31 

nerisms of the day. It is certainly a danger; 
at the same time, it sometimes seems, when one 
reads the slipshod, careless English which is often 
thought good enough for story-telling, that it is 
almost impossible to overrate the value of style. 
There is comfort in the thought that no reputation 
worth having can be made without attending to 
style, and that there is no style, however rugged, 
which cannot be made beautiful by attention and 
pains. " How many times," a writer once asked a 
girl who brought him her first effort for advice and 
criticism; "how many times have you re-written 
this page ? " She confessed that she had written it 
once for all, had never read it afterwards, and had 
not the least idea that there was such a thing as 
style. Is it not presumptuous in the highest degree 
to believe that what one has produced without 
pains, thought, or trouble will give any pleasure to 
the reader ? 

In fact every scene, however unimportant, should 
be completely and carefully finished. There should 
be no unfinished places, no sign anywhere of weari- 
ness or haste — in fact, no scamping. The writer 
must so love his work as to dwell tenderly on every 
age and be literally unable to send forth a single 
page of it without the finishing touches. We all of 
tis remember that kind of novel in which every 
scene has the appearance of being hurried and 
scamped. 

To sum up these few preliminary and general 



32 THE AET OF FICTION. 

laws. The Art of Fiction requires first of all the 
power of description, truth, and fidelity, observa- 
tion, selection, clearness of conception and of out- 
line, dramatic grouping, directness of purpose, a 
profound belief on the part of the story-teller in the 
reality of his story, and beauty of workmanship. 
It is, moreover, an Art which requires of those 
who follow it seriously that they must be unceas- 
ingly occupied in studying the ways of mankind, 
the social laws, the religions, philosophies, ten- 
dencies, thoughts, prejudices, superstitions of men 
and women. They must consider as many of the 
forces which act upon classes and upon 'individuals 
as they can discover ; they should be always trying 
to put themselves into the place of another ; they 
must be as inquisitive and as watchful as a detec- 
tive, as suspicious as a criminal lawyer, as eager for 
knowledge as a physicist, and withal fully possessed 
of that spirit to which nothing appears mean, noth- 
ing contemptible, nothing unworthy of study, which 
belongs to human nature. 

I repeat that I submit some of these laws as per- 
haps self-evident. If that is so, many novels which 
are daily submitted to the reviewer are written in 
wilful neglect and disobedience of them. But they 
are not really self-evident ; those who aspire to be 
artists in Fiction almost invariably begin without 
any understanding at all of these laws. Hence the 
lamentable early failures, the waste of good ma- 
terial, and the low level of Art with which both the 



THE ART OP FICTION. 33 

novel-writer and the novel-reader are too often con- 
tented. I am certain that if these laws were better 
known and more generally studied, a very large pro- 
portion of the bad works of which our critics com- 
plain would not be produced at all. And I am in 
great hopes that one effect of the establishment of 
the newly founded Society of Authors will be to 
keep young writers of fiction from rushing too 
hastily into print, to help them to the right under- 
standing of their Art and its principles, and to 
guide them into true practice of their principles 
while they are still young, their imaginations strong, 
and their personal experiences as yet not wasted in 
foolish failures. 

After all these preliminary studies there comes the 
most important point of all — the story. There is a 
school which pretends that there is no need for a 
story: all the stories, they say, have been told 
already ; there is no more room for invention : no- 
body wants any longer to listen to a story. One 
hears this kind of talk with the same wonder which 
one feels when a new monstrous fashion changes the 
beautiful figure of woman into something grotesque 
and unnatural. Men say these things gravely to 
each other, especially men who have no story to 
tell : other men listen gravely ; in the same way 
women put on the newest and most preposterous 
fashions gravely, and look upon each other without 
either laughing or hiding their faces for shame. It 
is, indeed, if we think of it, a most strange and 



34 THE AET OF FICTION. 

wonderful theory, that we should continue to care 
for Fiction and cease to care for the story. We 
have all along been training ourselves how to tell 
the story, and here is this new school which steps in, 
like the needy knife-grinder, to explain that there is 
no story left at all to tell. Why, the story is every- 
thing. I cannot conceive of a world going on at all 
without stories, and those strong ones, with incident 
in them, and merriment and pathos, laughter and 
tears, and the excitement of wondering what will 
happen next. Fortunately, these new theorists con- 
tradict themselves, because they iind it impossible to 
write a novel which shall not contain a story, al- 
though it may be but a puny bantling. Fiction 
without adventure — a drama without a plot — a 
novel without surprises — the thing is as impossible 
as life without uncertainty.* 

As for the story, then. And here theory and 
teaching can go no farther. For every Art there is 
the corresponding science which may be taught. 
We have been speaking of the corresponding 
science. But the Art itself can neither be taught 
nor communicated. If the thing is in a man he will 
bring it out somehow, well or badly, quickly or 
slowly. If it is not, he can never learn it. Here, 

* A correspondent asks me if I do not like the work of 
Mr. Howells. Of course one cannot choose hut like his 
writing. But one cannot also avoid comparing his work 
with that of his countryman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who 
added to the cliarm of style the interest of a romantic and 
exciting story. 



THE ART OP FICTION. 35 

then, let us suppose that we have to do with the 
man to whom the invention of stories is part of his 
nature. We will also suppose that he has mastered 
the laws of his Art, and is now anxious to apply 
them. To such a man one can only recommend 
that he should with the greatest care and attention 
analyze and examine the construction of certain 
works, which are acknowledged to be of the first 
rank in fiction. Among them, not to speak of Scott, 
he might pay especial attention, from the construc- 
tive point of view, to the truly admirable shorter 
stories of Charles Reade, to George Eliot's " Silas 
Marner," the most perfect of English novels, Haw- 
thorne's " Scarlet Letter," Holmes's " Elsie Venner," 
Blackmore's " Lorna Doone," or Black's " Daughter 
of Heth." He must not sit down to read them " for 
the story," as uncritical people say : he must read 
them slowly and carefully, perhaps backwards, so as 
to discover for himself how the author built up the 
novel, and from what original germ or conception it 
sprang. Let me take another novel by another 
writer to illustrate my meaning. It is James Payn's 
" Confidential Agent," a work showing, if I may be 
permitted to say so, constructive power of the very 
highest order. You have all, without doubt, read 
that story. As you know, it turns upon a diamond 
robbery. To the unpractised hand it would seem 
as if stories of theft had already been told ad nau- 
seam. The man of experience knows better: he 
knows that in his hands every story becomes new, 



36 THE AKT OF FICTJUX. 

because he can place it upon his stage with new 
incidents, new conditions, and new actors. Accord- 
ingly, Payn connects his diamonds with three or 
four quite ordinary families : he does not search for 
strange and eccentric characters, but uses the folk 
he sees around him, plain middle-class people, to 
whom most of us belong. He does not try to show 
these people cleverer, better cultured, or in any 
respect at all other than they really are, except that 
some of them talk a little better than in real life 
they would be likely to do. That is to say, in 
dialogue he exercises the art of selection. Presently, 
in this quiet household of age and youth, love and 
happiness, there happens a dreadful thing: the 
young husband vanishes amid circumstances which 
give rise to the most horrible suspicions. How this 
event acts upon the minds of the household and 
their friends: how the faith, sorely tried, of one 
breaks down, and that of another remains steadfast : 
how the truth is gi-adually disclosed, and the inno- 
cence of the suspected man is made clear — all this 
should be carefully examined by the student as a 
lesson in construction and machinery. He will not, 
one hopes, neglect the other lesson taught him by 
this novel, which is the art of telling the story, 
selecting the actors, and skilfully using the plain 
and simple materials which lie around us everywhere 
ready to our hands. I am quite sure that the chief 
lesson to be learned from the study of nearly all our 
own modern novelists is that adventure, pathos, 



THE AET OF FICTION. 37 

amusement, and interest, are far better sought 
among lives which seem dull, and among people 
who seem at first beyond the reach of romance, than 
from eccentricity and peculiarity of manner, or from 
violent and extreme reverses and accidents of for- 
tune. This is, indeed, only another aspect of the 
increased value which we have learned to attach to 
individual life. 

One thing more the Art student has to learn. Let 
him not only believe his own story before he begins 
to tell it, but let him remember that in story-telling, 
as in almsgiving, a cheerful countenance works 
wonders, and a hearty manner greatly helps the 
teller and pleases the listener. One would not have 
the novelist make continual efforts at being comic ; 
but let him not tell his story with eyes full of sad- 
ness, a face of woe and a shaking voice. His story 
may be tragic, but continued gloom is a mistake in 
Art, even for a tragedy. If his story is a comedy, 
all the more reason to tell it cheerfully and brightly. 
L'astly, let him tell it without apparent effort : with- 
out trying to show his cleverness, his wit, his 
powers of epigram, and his learning. Yet let him 
pour without stint or measure into his work all that 
he knows, all that he has seen, all that he has ob- 
served, and all that he has remembered: all that 
there is of nobility, sympathy, and enthusiasm in 
himself. Let him spare nothing, but lavish all that 
he has, in the full confidence that the wells will not 
be dried up, and that the springs of fancy and 



38 THE ART OF FICTION. 

imagination will flow again, even though he seem to 
have exhausted himself in this one effort. 

Here, therefore, we may leave the student of this 
Art.* It remains for him to show whether he does 
wisely in following it farther. Of one thing for his 
encouragement he may rest assured ; in the Art of 
Fiction more than in any other it is easy to gain 
recognition, far easier than in any of the sister Arts. 
In the English school of painting, for example, there 
are already so many good men in the field that it is 
most difficult to win an acknowledged position ; in 
the drama it is next to impossible to get a play pro- 
duced, in spite of our thirty London theatres; in 
poetry it seems almost hopeless to get a hearing, 
even if one has reached the second rank ; but in Fic- 
tion the whole of the English-speaking race are 
always eager to welcome a newcomer ; good work is 
instantly recognized, and the only danger is that the 
universal cry for more may lead to hasty and imma- 
ture production. I do not mean that ready recog- 
nition will immediately bring with it a great pecu- 
niary success. Unfortunately, there has grown up 
of late a bad fashion of measuring success too much 
by the money it seems to command. It is not always, 
remember, the voice of the people which elects the 
best man, and though in most cases it follows that 
a successful novelist commands a large sale of his 
works, it may happen that the Art of a great writer 
is of such a kind that it may never become widely 

* See Appendix. 



THE AET OF FICTION. 39 

popular. There have been among us two or three 
such writers. One case will immediately occur to most 
of us here. It is that of a man whose books are 
filled with wisdom, experience, and epigram : whose 
characters are most admirably studied from the life, 
whose plots are ingenious, situations fresh, and dia^ 
logues extraordinarily clever. Yet he has never 
been widely popular, and, I am sure, never will be. 
One may be pretty certain that this writer's money- 
value in the market is considerably less than that of 
many another whose genius is not half so great, but 
his popularity twice as large. So that a failure to 
hit the popular taste does not always imply failure 
in Art. How, then, is one to know, when people do 
not ask for his work, if he has really failed or not ? 
I think he must know without being told if he has 
failed to please. If a man sings a song he can tell 
in a moment, even before he has finished, if he has 
pleased his audience. So, if a man writes a novel, 
he can tell by the criticisms in the journals, by read- 
ing between the lines of what his friends tell him, 
by the expression of their eyes, by his own inner 
consciousness, if he has succeeded or failed. And 
if the latter, let him find out as quickly as may be 
through what causes. The unlucky dramatist can 
complain that his piece was badly mounted and badly 
acted. The novelist cannot, because he is sure not to 
be badly read. Therefore, if a novelist fail at first, 
let him be well assured that it is his own fault ; and 
if, on his second attempt, he cannot amend, let him 



40 THE AET OF FICTION. 

for the future be silent. One is more and more as- 
tonished at seeing the repeated efforts of writers 
whose friends should make them understand that 
they have not the least chance of success unless they 
unlearn all that they have learned and begin again 
upon entirely different methods and some knowledge 
of the science. It must be a cruel blow, after all 
the work that goes to make even a bad novel, after 
all the trouble of getting it published, to see it droi> 
unnoticed, stillborn, thought hardly worthy to re- 
ceive words of contempt. If the disappointment 
leads to examination and self-amendment, it may 
prove the greatest blessing. But he who fails twice 
probably deserves to fail, because he has learned 
nothing, and is incapable of learning anything, from 
the lessons of his first failure. 

Let me say one word upon the present condition 
of this most delightful Art in England. Remember 
that great Masters in every Art are rare. Perhaps 
one or two appear in a century : we ought not to 
expect more. It may even happen that those 
modern writers of our own whom we have agreed 
to call great Masters will have to take lower rank 
among posterity, who will have great Masters of 
their own. I am inclined, however, to think that a 
few of the nineteenth-century novelists will ncA-er 
be suffered to die, though they may be remembered 
principally for one book — that Thackeray will be 
remembered for his " Vanity Fair," Dickens for 
"David Copperfield," George Meredith for the 



THE ART OF FICTION. 41 

"Ordeal of Richard Peverel," George Eliot for 
" Silas Marner'," Charles Reade for the " Cloister 
and the Hearth," and Blackmore for his "Lorna 
Doone." On the other hand, without thinking or 
troubling ourselves at all about the verdict of pos- 
terity, which matters nothing to us compared with 
the verdict of our contemporaries, let us acknowledge 
that it is a bad year indeed when we have not pro- 
duced some good work, work of a very high kind, 
if not immortal work. An exhibition of the year's 
novels would generally show two or three, at least, 
of which the country may be, say, reasonably proud. 
Does the Royal Academy of Arts show every year 
more than two or three pictures — not immortal 
pictures, but pictures of which we may be reason- 
ably proud ? One would like, it is true, to see fewer 
bad novels published, as well as fewer bad pictures 
exhibited ; the standard of the work which is on the 
borderland between success and failure should be 
higher. At the same time I am very sure and cer- 
tain that there never has been a time when better 
works of Fiction have been produced, both by men 
and women. That Art is not declining, but is ad- 
vancing, which is cultivated on true and not on false 
or conventional principles. Ought we not to be full 
of hope for the future, when such women as Mrs. Oli- 
phant and Mrs. Thackeray Ritchie write for us — 
when such men as Meredith, Blackmore, Black, Payn, 
Wilkie Collins, and Hardy are still at their best, and 
such men at Louis Stevenson, Christie Murray, 



42 THE AET OF FICTION. 

Clark Russell, and Herman Merivale have just be- 
gun ? I think the fiction, and, indeed, all the imag- 
inary work of the future will be far fuller in human 
interest than in the past ; the old stories — no doubt 
they will still be the old stories — will be fitted to 
actors who up till recently were only used for the 
purposes of contrast ; the drama of life which for- 
merly was assigned to kings and princes will be plaj'ed 
by figures taken as much from the great struggling, 
unknown masses. Kings and gi'eat lords are chiefly 
picturesque and interesting on account of their 
beautiful costumes, and a traditional belief in their 
power. Costume is certainly not a strong point in 
the lower ranks, but I think we shall not miss that, 
and wherever we go for our material, whether to 
the higher or the lower ranks, we may be sure of 
finding everywhere love, sacrifice, and devotion for 
virtues, with selfishness, cunning, and treachery for 
vices. Out of these, with their endless combina- 
tions and changes, that novelist must be poor indeed 
who cannot make a story. 

Lastly, I said at the outset that I would ask you 
to accord to novelists the recognition of their place 
as artists. But after what has been said, I feel that 
to urge this further would be only a repetition of 
what has gone before. Therefore, though not all 
who write novels can reach the first, or even the 
second, rank, wherever you find good and faithful 
work, with truth, sympathy, and clearness of pur- 
pose, I pray you to give the author of that work the 



THE AKT OF FICTION. 43 

praise as to an Artist — an Artist like the rest — 
the praise that you so readily accord to the earnest 
student of any other Art. As for the great Masters 
of the Art — Fielding, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, 
"Victor Hugo — I, for one, feel irritated when the 
critics begin to appraise, compare, and to estimate 
them : there is nothing, I think, that we can give 
them but admiration that is unspeakable, and grati- 
tude that is silent. This silence proves more elo- 
quently than any words how great, how beautiful an 
Art is that of Fiction. 



APPENDIX. 



I HAVE been asked not to leave the young novelist 
at this point. Let me, therefore, venture upon a 
few words of advice. I do this without apology, 
because, like most men who write, I receive, every 
week, letters from young beginners asking for 
counsel and guidance. To all these I recommend 
the consideration of the rules I have laid down, and, 
above all, attention to truth, reality, and style. 

I was once asked to read a MS. novel written by 
a young lady. The work was hurried, scamped, 
unreal — in fact, it had every fault. Yet there was 
something in it which made me think that there was 
hope for her. I therefore wrote to her, pointing out 
the faults, without sparing her. I added that, if 
she was not discouraged, but would begin again, 
and would prepare carefully the scenario of a novel, 
fitted with characters duly thought out, I would 
give her such further advice as was in my power. 
The very next day she sent me five scenarios. I 
have not heard from her since, and I hope she has 
renounced the Art whose very elements she could 
not understand. 

Let me suppose, then, that the writer has got his 
novel completed. Here begins the " trouble," as 



46 APPENDIX. 

the Americans say. And at this point my advicce 
may be of use. 

Remember that all publishers are eager to get 
good work: they are prepared to consider MSS. 
carefully — most of them pay men, on whose judg- 
ment they rely, men of literary standing, to read 
and " taste " for them ; therefore it is a simple and 
obvious piece of advice that the writer should send 
his work to some good publisher, and it is perfectly 
certain that if the work is good it will be accepted 
and published. There is, as I have said in the 
lecture, little or no risk, even with an unknown 
author, over a really good novel. But, then, the 
first work almost always contains immaturities and 
errors which prevent it from being really good. 
More of ten than not, it is on the border line, not so 
good as to make its publication desirable by a firm 
which will only issue good work, or by any means 
safe to pay its expenses. What then? I would 
advise the author never, from any considerations of 
vanity or self-confidence, to pay money to a pub- 
lisher for bringing out his book. There are certain 
publishing houses, not the best, which bring out 
yearly quantities of novels, nearly every one of 
which is paid for by the author, because they are 
not good enough to pay their own expenses. Do 
not, I would say, swell the ranks of those who give 
the enemy reason to blaspheme this Art. Refuse 
absolutely to publish on such ignominious terms. 
Remember that to be asked for money to pay for 



APPENDIX. 47 

the expense of publication is to be told that your 
work is not good enough to be published. If you 
have tried the half-dozen best publishers, and been 
refused by all, realize that the work will not do. 
Then, if you can, get the advice of some experi- 
enced man of letters upon it, and ponder over 
his judgment. 

If you cannot, reconsider the whole story from 
the beginning, with special reference to the rules 
which are here laid down. If necessary, rewrite 
the whole. Or, if necessary, put the whole into the 
fire, and, without being disheartened, begin again 
with another and a better story. Do not aim at 
producing an absolutely new plot. You cannot do 
it. But persevere, if you feel that the root of the 
matter is in you, till your work is accepted ; and 
never, never, NEVER pay for publishing a novel. 

Let me end with a little piece of personal history. 

A good many years ago, there was a young man 
of four or five and twenty, who ardently desired 
before all things to bacome a novelist. He spent a 
couple of years, giving to the work all his unem- 
ployed hours, over a novel of modern life. He took 
immense pains with it, rewrote some of the scenes 
half a dozen times, and spared neither labor nor 
thought to make it as good as he could make it. 
When he really felt that he could do nothing more 
with it, he rolled it up and sent it to a friend with 
the request that he would place it anonymously in 
Mr. Macmillan's hands. Mr. Macmillan had it care- 



48 APPENDIX. 

fully read, and sent the author, still through the 
friend, his reader's opinion. The reader did not 
sign his opinion, but he was a Cambridge man, a 
critic of judgment, a man of taste, a kindly man, 
and he had once been, if he was not still, a mathe- 
matician. These things were clearly evident from 
his handwriting, as well as from the wording of his 
verdict. This was to the effect that the novel 
should not be published, for certain reasons which 
he proceeded to give. But he laid down his ob- 
jections with very great consideration for the writer, 
indicating for his encouragement what he considered 
points of promise, suggesting certain practical rules 
of construction which had been violated, and show- 
ing where ignorance of the Art and inexperience of 
life had caused faults such as to make it most unde- 
sirable for the author, as well as impossible for a 
publisher of standing, to produce the work. The 
writer, after the first pangs of disappointment, 
plucked up heart and began to ponder over the 
lessons contained in that opinion. The young man 
has since become a novelist, " of a sort," and he 
takes this opportunity of returning his most sincere 
thanks to Mr. Macmillan for his kindness in con- 
sidering and refusing to publish an immature novel, 
and to his anonymous critic for his invaluable letter. 
Would that all publishers' readers were like unto 
that reader, as conscientious and as kindly, and as 
anxious to save beginners from putting forth bad 
work! 



THE AKT OF FICTION. 



BY HENRY JAMES. 



THE AET OF FICTION. 



I SHOULD not have affixed so comprehensive a 
title to these few remarks, necessarily wanting in 
any completeness, upon a subject the full considerar 
tion of which would carry us far, did I not seem to 
discover a pretext for my temerity in the interest- 
ing pamphlet lately published under this name by 
Mr. Walter Besant. Mr. Besant's lecture at the 
Royal Institution — the original form of his pamph- 
let — appears to indicate that many persons are 
interested in the art of fiction, and are not indiffer- 
ent to such remarks as those who practise it may 
attempt to make about it. I am therefore anxious 
not to lose the benefit of this favorable associar 
tion, and to edge in a few words under cover of the 
attention which Mr. Besant is sure to have excited. 
There is something very encouraging in his having 
put into form certain of his ideas on the mystery of 
story-telling. 

It is a proof of life and curiosity — curiosity on 
the part of the brotherhood of novelists, as well as 

51 



62 THE AET OF FICTION. 

on the part of their readers. Only a short time ago 
it might have been supposed that the English novel 
was not what the French call discutaMe. It had no 
air of having a theory, a conviction, a conscious- 
ness of itself behind it — of being the expression of 
an artistic faith, the result of choice and comparison. 
I do not say it was necessarily the worse for that ; 
it would take much more courage than I possess to 
intimate that the form of the novel, as Dickens and 

■ Thackeray (for instance) saw it, had any taint of 
incompleteness. It was, however, naif (if I may 

I help myself out with another French word) ; and, 
evidently, if it is destined to suffer in any way for 
having lost its naivete, it has now an idea of making 
sure of the corresponding advantages. During the 
period I have alluded to there was a comfortable, 
good-humored feeling abroad that a novel is a 
novel, as a pudding is a pudding, and that this was 
the end of it. But within a year or two, for some 
reason or other, there have been signs of returning 
animation — the era of discussion would apf)ear to 
have been to a certain extent opened. Art lives 
upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, 
upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of 
views and the comparison of standpoints ; and there 
is a presumption that those times when no one has 
anything particular to say about it, and has no 
reason to give for practice or preference, though 
they may be times of genius, are not times of devel- 
opment, are times, possibly even, a little of duhiess. 



THE ART OF FICTION. 53 

The successful application of any art is a delightful 
spectacle, but the theory, too, is interesting ; and 
though there is a great deal of the latter without 
the former, I suspect there has never been a genuine 
success that has not had a latent core of conviction. 
Discussion, suggestion, formulation, these things are 
fertilizing when they are frank and sincere. Mr. 
Besant has set an excellent example in saying what 
he thinks, for his part, about the way in which fic- 
tion should be written, as well as about the way in 
which it should be published; for his view of the 
" art," carried on into an appendix, covers that too. 
Other laborers in the same field will doubtless take 
up the argument, they will give it the light of their 
experience, and the effect will surely be to make 
our interest in the novel a little more what it had 
for some time threatened to fail to be — a serious, 
active, inquiring interest, under protection of which 
this delightful study may, in moments of confidence, 
venture to say a little more what it thinks of it- 
self. 

It must take itself seriously for the public to take </ " 
it so. The old superstition about fiction being 
" wicked " has doubtless died out in England ; but 
the spirit of it lingers in a certain oblique regard 
directed toward any story which does not more or 
less admit that it is only a joke. Even the most 
jocular novel feels in some degree the weight of the 
proscription that was formerly directed against 
literary levity ; the jocularity does not always sue- 



64 THE ART OF FICTION. 

ceed in passing for gravity. It is still expected, 
though perhaps people are ashamed to say it, that a 
production which is after all only a " make believe " 
(for what else is a "story?") shall be in some 
degree apologetic — shall renounce the pretension 
of attempting really to compete with life. This, of 
course, any sensible wide-awake story declines to 
do ; for it quickly perceives that the tolerance 
granted to it on such a condition is only an attempt 
to stifle it, disguised in the form of generosity. 
The old Evangelical hostility to the novel, which 
was as explicit as it was narrow, and which regarded 
it as little less favorable to our immortal part than 
a stage-play, was in reality far less insulting. The 
only reason for^the existenceoi a noveMs that it 
does compjte^ with life. When it ceases to com- 
pete as the canvas of the painter competes, it will 
have arrived at a very strange pass. It is not 
expected of the picture that it will make itself 
humble in order to be forgiven; and the analogy 
between the art of the painter and the art of the 
novelist is, so far as I am able to see, complete. 
Their inspiration is the same, their j)rocess (allow- 
ing for the different quality of the vehicle) is the 
same, their success is the same. They may learn 
from each other, they may explain and sustain each 
other. Their cause is the same, and the honor of 
one is the honor of another. Peculiarities of man- 
ner, of execution, that correspond on either side, 
exist in each of them and contribute to their devel- 



THE ART OF FICTION. 55 

opment. The Mahometans think a picture an 
unholy thing, but it is a long time since any Chris- 
tian did, and it is therefore the more odd that in 
the Christian mind the traces (dissimulated though 
they may be) of a suspicion of the sister art should 
linger to this day. The only effectual way to lay it 
to rest is to emphasize the analogy to which I just 
alluded — to insist on the fact that, as the p icture is 
reality, so the no vel is history. That is the only 
general description (which does it justice) that we 
may give of the novel. But history also is allowed , 
to compete with life, as I say ; it is not, any more 
than painting, expected to apologize. The subject- 
matter of fiction is stored up likewise in documents 
and records, and if it will not give itself away, as 
they say in California, it must s peak with assu raiice, 
with the tone of the historian. Certain accom- 
plished novelists have a habit of giving themselves 
away which must often bring tears to the eyes of 
people who take their fiction seriously. I was 
lately struck, in reading over many pages of 
Anthony Trollope, with his want of discretion in 
this particular. In a digression, a parenthesis or an 
aside, he concedes to the reader that he and this 
trusting friend are only "making believe." He 
admits that the events he narrates have not really 
happened, and that he can give his narrative any 
turn the reader may like best. Such a betrayal of 
a sa cred offi ca seems to me, I confess, a terrible 
crime ; it is what I mean by the attitude of 



56 THE AET OF FICTION. 

apology, and it shocks me every whit as much in 
Trollope as it would have shocked me in Gibbon or 
Macaulay. It implies that the novelist is less 
occupied in looking for the truth than the historian, 
and in doing so it deprives him at a stroke of all 
his standing-room. To repres ent and illus trate the 
past, the actions of men, is the task of either 
writer, and the only difference that I can see is, in 
proportion as he succeeds, to the honor of the 
novelist, consisting as it does in bis having more 
difficulty in collecting his evidence, which is so far 
from being purely literary. It seems to me to give 
him a great character, the fact that he has at once 
so much in common with the philosopher and the 
painter ; this double analogy is a magnificent heri- 
tage. 

It is of all this evidently that Mr. Besant is full 
when he insists upon the fact that fiction is one of 
the Jine arts, deserving in its turn of all the honors 
and emoluments that have hitherto been reserved 
for the successful profession of music, poetry, paint- 
ing, architecture. It is impossible to insist too much 
on so important a truth, and the place that Mr. 
Besant demands for the work of the novelist may be 
represented, a trifle less abstractly, by saying that 
he demands not only that it shall be reputed artistic, 
but that it shall be reputed very artistic indeed. It 
is excellent that he should have struck this note, for 
his doing so indicates that there was need of it, that 
his proposition may be to many people a novelty. 



THE ART OP FICTION. 57 

One rubs one's eyes at the thought ; but the rest of 
Mr. Besant's essay confirms the revelation. I sus- 
pect, in truth, that it would be possible to confirm 
it still further, and that one would not be far wrong 
in saying that in addition to the people to whom it 
has never occurred that a novel ought to be artistic, 
there are a gi-eat many others who, if this principle 
were urged upon them, would be filled with an in- 
definable mistrust. They would find it difficult to 
explain their repugnance, but it would operate 
strongly to put them on their guard. "Art," in 
our Protestant communities, where so many things 
have got so strangely twisted about, is supposed, in 
certain circles, to have some vaguely injurious effect 
upon those who make it an important consideration, 
who let it weigh in the balance. It is assumed to 
be opposed in some mysterious manner to morality, 
to amusement, to instruction. When it is embodied 
in the work of the painter (the sculptor is another 
affair ! ) you know what it is ; it stands there before 
you, in the honesty of pink and gi'een and a gilt 
frame ; you can see the worst of it at a glance, and 
you can be on your guard. But when it is intro- 
duced into literature it becomes more insidious — 
there is danger of its hurting you before you know 
it. Literature should be either instructive or amus-' 
ing, and there is in many minds an impression that 
these artistic pre-occupations, the search for form, 
contribute to neither end, interfere, indeed, with 
both. They are too frivolous to be edifying, and 



58 THE AET OF FICTION. 

too serious to be diverting ; and they are, moreover, 
priggish and paradoxical and superfluous. That, I 
think, represents the manner in which the latent 
thought of many people who read novels as an ex- 
ercise in skipping would explain itself if it were to 
become articulate. They would argue, of course, 
that a novel ought to be " good," but they would 
interpret this term in a fashion of their own, which, 
indeed, would vary considerably from one critic to 
another. One would say that being good means 
representing virtuous and aspiring characters, placed 
in prominent positions ; another would say that 
it depends for a " happy ending " on a distribution 
at the last of prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, 
babies, millions, appended paragraphs, and cheerful 
remarks. Another still would say that it means be- 
ing full of incident and movement, so that we shall 
wish to jump ahead, to see who was the mysterious 
stranger, and if the stolen will was ever found, and 
shall not be distracted from this pleasure by any 
tiresome analysis or " description." But they would 
all agree that the " artistic " idea would spoil some 
of their fun. One would hold it accountable for all 
the description, another would see it revealed in the 
absence of sympathy. Its hostility to a happy end- 
ing would be evident, and it might even, in some 
cases, render any ending at all impossible. The 
" ending " of a novel is, for many persons, like that 
of a good dinner, a course of dessert and ices, and 
the artist in fiction is regarded as a sort of meddle- 



THE AET OF FICTIOlSr. 59 

some doctor who forbids agreeable aftertastes. It 
is therefore true that this conception of Mr. Besant's, 
of the novel as a superior form, encounters not only 
a negative but a positive indifference. It matters 
little that, as a work of art, it should really be as 
little or as much concerned to supply happy endr 
ings, sympathetic characters, and an objective tone, 
as if it were a wbrk of mechanics ; the association 
of ideas, however incongruous, might easily be too 
much for it if an eloquent voice were not sometimes 
raised to call attention to the fact that it is at once 
as free and as serious a branch of literature as any 
other. 

Certainly, this might sometimes be doubted in 
presence of the enormous number of works of fiction 
that appeal to the credulity of our generation, for it 
might easily seem that there could be no great sub- 
stance in a commodity so quickly and easily pro- 
duced. It must- be admitted that good novels are 
somewhat compromised by bad ones, and that the 
field at large suffers discredit from overcrowding. 
I think, however, that this injury is only superficial, 
and that the superabundance of written fiction proves 
nothing against the principle itself. It has been 
vulgarized, like all other kinds of literature, like 
everything else to-day, and it has proved more than 
some kinds accessible to vulgarization. But there 
is as much difference as there ever was between a 
good novel and a bad one ; the bad is swept, with 
all the daubed canvases and spoiled marble, into 



60 THE AKT OF FlCTLOif. 

some unvisited limbo or infinite rubbish-yard, be- 
neath the back-windows of the world, and the good 
subsists and emits its light and stimulates our desire 
for perfection. As I shall take the liberty of mak- 
ing but a single criticism of Mr. Besant, whose tone 
is so full of the love of his art, I may as well have 
done with it at once. He seems to me to mistake 
in attempting to say so definitely beforehand what 
sort of an affair the good novel will be. To indi- 
cate the danger of such an error as that has been 
the purpose of these few pages ; to suggest that cer- 
tain traditions on the subject, applied a priori, have 
already had much to answer for, and that the good 
\ health of an art which undertakes so immediately to 
jireproduce life must demand that it be perfectly free. 
It lives upon exercise, and the very meaning of ex- 
ercise is freedom. The only obligation to which in 
advance we may hold a noA'^el without incurring the 
accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interest- 
ing. That general responsibility rests upon it, but 
it is the only one I can think of. The ways in 
which it is at liberty to accomplish this result (of 
interesting us) strike me as innumerable and such 
as can only suffer from being marked out, or fenced 
in, by prescription. They are as various as the tem- 
perament of man, and they are successful in propor- 
tion as they reveal a particular mind, different from 
others. A novel is in its broadest definit ion a p er- 
sonal im pression of life; that, to begin with, con- 
stitutes its valucj which is^ greater or less according 



THE ART OF FICTION. 61 

to the intensity of the impression. But there will 
be no intensity at all, and therefore no value, unless 
there is freedom to feel and say. The tracing of a 
line to be followed, of a tone to be taken, of a form 
to be filled out, is a limitation of that freedom and 
a suppression of the very thing that we are most 
curious about. The form, it seems to me, is to be ^ 
appreciated after the fact ; then the author's choice 
has been made, his standard has been indicated ; 
then we can follow lines and directions and compare 
tones. Then, in a word, we can enjoy one of the 
most charming of pleasures, we can estimate quality, 
we can apply the test of execution. The execution 
belongs to the author alone ; it is what is most per- 
sonal to him, and we measure him by that. The ^ 
advantage, the luxury, as well as the torment and 
responsibility, of the novelist, is that there is no 
limit to what he may attempt as an executant — no 
limit to his possible experiments, efforts, discoveries, 
successes. Here it is especially that he works, step 
by step, like his brother of the brush, of whom we 
may always say that he has painted his picture in a 
manner best known to himself. His manner is his 
secret, not necessarily a deliberate one. He cannot 
disclose it, as a general thing, if he would ; he would 
be at a loss to teach it to others. I say this (vith a 
due recollection of having insisted on the community 
of method of the artist who paints a picture and the 
artist who writes a novel. The painter is able to 
teach the rudiments of his practice, and it is possible. 



62 THE AKT OF FICTION. 

from the study of good work (granted the aptitude), 
both to learn how to paint and to learn how to write. 
Yet it remains true, without injury to the rapproche- 
ment, that the literary artist would be obliged to 
say to his pupU much more than the other, " Ah, 
well, you must do it as you can ! " It is a question 
of degree, a matter of delicacy. If there are exact 
sciences there are also exact arts, and the grammar 
of painting is so much more definite that it makes 
the difference. 

I ought to add, however, that if Mr. Besant says 
at the beginning of his essay that the " laws of fiction 
may be laid down and taught with as much preci- 
sion and exactness as the laws of harmony, perspec- 
tive, and proportion," he mitigates what might ap- 
pear to be an over-statement by applying his remark 
to "general" laws, and by expressing most of these 
rules in a manner with which it would certainly be 
unaccommodating to disagree. That the novelist 
must write from his experience, that his " characters ■: 
must be real and such as might be met with in ac- 
tual life ; " that -'la young lady brought up in a quiet y 
country village should avoid descriptions of garri- 
son life," and " a writer whose friends and personal : 
experiences belong to the lower middle-class should ^ 
carefully avoid introducing his characters into Soci- 
ety;" that one should enter one's notes in a com- 
monplace book ; that one's figures should be clear in 
outline ; that making them clear by some trick of 
speech or of carriage is a bad method, and " describ- 



THE AllT OF FICTION. 63 

ing them at length " is a worse one ; that English 
Fiction should have a " conscious moral purpose ; " 
that " it is almost impossible to estimate too highly 
the value of careful vs^orkmanship — that is, of style ; " 
that " the most important point of all is the stoiy," 
that " the story is everything " — these are principles 
with most of which it is surely impossible not to sym- 
pathize. That remark about the lower middle-class 
writer and his knowing his place is perhaps rather 
chilling ; but for the rest, I should find it difficult 
to dissent from any one of these recommendations. 
At the same time I should find it difiicult positively 
to assent to them, with the exception, perhaps, of the 
injunction as to entering one's jiptes in a common 
place book. They scarcely'seem to me to have the 
-q^utriity that Mr. Besant attributes to the rules of the 



novelist — the " precision and exactness " of " the 
laws of harmony, perspective, and proportion." They 
are suggestive, they are even inspiring, but they are 
not exact, though they are doubtless as much so as 
the case admits of ; which is a proof of that liberty 
of interpretation for which I just contended. For 
the value of these different injunctions — so beauti- 
ful and so vague — is wholly in the meaning one 
attaches to them. The charactei's, the situation, 
which strike one as real, will be those that touch and 
interest one most, but the measure of reality is very 
difficult to fix. The reality of Don Quixote or Mr. 
Micawber is a very delicate shade ; it is a reality so 
colored by the author's vision that, vivid as it may 



64 THE ART OF FICTION. 

be, one would hesitate to propose it as a model ; one 
would expose one's self to some very embarrassing 
questions on the part of a pupil. It goes without 
saying that you will not write a good novel unless 
you possess the sense of rea^lit^; but it will be diffi- 
cult to give you a recifie for calling that sense into 
being. Humanity is immense, and reality has a my- 
riad forms ; the most one can affirm is that some of 
the flowers of fiction have the odor of it, and others 
have not ; as for telling you in advance how your 
nosegay should be composed, that is another affaii'. 
It is equally excellent and inconclusive to say that 
one must write from exj)erience ; to our suppositi- 
tious aspirant such a declaration might savor of 
mockery. What kind of experience is intended, 
and where does it begin and end ? Experience is 
never limited, and it is never complete ; it is an im- 
mense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web, of the 
finest silken threads, suspended in the chamber of 
consciousness and catching every air-borne particle 
in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind ; 
and when the mind is •mTaginative — niuch more 
when it happens to be that of "a man of genius^ it 
takes to itself the faintest hints of life, it converts 
the very pulses of the air into revelations. The 
young lady living in a village has only to be a dam- 
sel upon whom nothing is lost to make it quite un- 
fair (as it seems to me) to declare to her that she 
shall have nothing to say about the military. Greater 
miracles have been seen than that, imagination as- 



THE "art of fiction. 65 

sistiiig, she should speak the truth about some of 
these gentlemen. I remembei' an English novel- 
ist, a woman of genius, telling me that she was much 
commended for the impression she had managed 
to give in one of her tales of the nature and way 
of life of the French Protestant youth. She had 
been asked where she learned so much about this 
recondite being, she had been congratulated on her 
peculiar opportunities. These opportunities con- 
sisted in her having once, in Paris, as she ascended 
a staircase, passed an open door where, in the house- 
hold of a pasteur, some of the young Protestants 
Avere seated at table round a finished meal. The 
glimpse made a picture ; it lasted only a moment, 
but that moment was experience. She had got her 
impression, and she evolved her type. She knew 
what youth was, and what Protestantism ; she also 
had the advantage of having seen what it was to be 
French ; so that she converted these ideas into a 
concrete image, and produced a reality. Above all, 
however, she was blessed with the faculty which 
when you give it an inch takes an ell, and which for 
the artist is a much greater source of strength than 
any accident of residence or of place in the social 
^ scale. The power to guess the unseen from the""! 

^ seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the 
whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling 
life, in general, so completely that you are well on 

-- your way to knowing any particular corner of it — , 
this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute 



66 THE ABT OF FICTION. 

experience, and they occur in country and in town, 
and in the most differing stages of education. If 
experience consists of impressions, it may be said 
that impressions are experience, just as (have we not 
seen it ?) they are the very air we breathe. There- 
fore, if I should certainly say to a novice, " Write 
from experience, and experience only," I should feel 
that this was a rather tantalizing monition if I were 
not careful immediately to add, " Try to-be one of 
the people on whom nothing is lost ! " 

I-tini far from intending by this to minimize the 
importance of exactness — of truth of detail. One 
can speak best from one's own taste, and I may 
therefore venture to say that the air of reality (so- 
lidity of specification) seems to me to be the suiDreme 
virtue of a novel — the merit in which all its other 
merits (including that conscious moral purpose of 
which Mr. Besant speaks) helplessly and submis- 
sively depend. If it be not there, they are all as 
nothing, and if these be there they owe their effect 
to the success with which the autlior has produced 
the ill usion , of life. The cultivation of this success, 
the study of this exquisite process, form, to my 
taste, the beginning and the end of the art of the 
novelist. They are his inspiration, his despair, 
his reward, his torment, his delight. It is here, 
in very truth, that he competes with life; it is 
here that he competes with his brother, the paint- 
er, in his attempt to render the look of things, 
the look that conveys their meaning, to catch 



THE ART OF FICTIOK. 67 

the color, the relief, the expi-ession, the surface, 
the substance of the human spectacle. It is in re- 
gard to this that Mr. Besant is well inspired when 
he bids him take notes. He cannot possibly take 
too many, he cannot possibly take enough. All life 
solicits him, and to " render "-the simplest surface, 
to produce the most momentary illusion, is a very 
complicated business. His case would be easier, 
and the rule would be more exact, if Mr. Besant had 
been able to tell him what notes to take. But this 
I fear he can never learn in any hand-book ; it is the 
business of his life. He has to take a great many 
in order to select a few, he has to work them up as 
he can, and even the guides and philosophers who 
^ might have most to say to him must leave him alone 
\ when it comes to the application of precepts, as we 
leave the painter in communion with his palette. 
That his characters " must be clear in outline," as 
Mr. Besant says — he feels that down to his boots ; 
but how he shall make them so is a secret between 
his good angel and himself. It would be absurdly 
simple if he could be taught that a great deal of 
" description " would make them so, or that, on the 
contrary, the absence of description and the culti- 
vation of dialogue, or the absence of dialogue and 
the multiplication of " incident," would rescue him 
from his difficulties. Nothing, for instance, is more 
possible than that he be of a turn of mind for which 
this odd, literal opposition of description and dia- 
logue, incident and description, has little meaning 



68 THE AKT OP FICTION. 

and light. People often talk of these things as if 
they had a kind of internecine distinctness, instead 
of melting into each other at every breath and being 
intimately associated parts of one general effort of 
expression. I cannot imagine composition existing in 
a series of blocks, not- conceive, in any novel worth 
discussing at all, of a passage of description that is 
not in its intention narrative, a passage of dialogue 
that is not in its intention descriptive, a touch of 
truth of any sort that does not partake of the nature 
of incident, and an incident that derives its interest 
from any other source than the general and only 
source of the success of a vrork of art, — that of 
. being illustrative. A novel is a living thing, all 
'■ one and continuous, like every other organism, and 
j 1 in proportion as it lives will it be found, I think, 
I (that in each of the parts there is something of each 
of the other parts. The critic who over the close 
texture of a finished work will pretend to trace a 
geography of items will mark some frontiers as ar- 
tificial, I fear, as any that have been known to his- 
tory. There is an old-fashioned distinction between 
the novel of character and the novel of incident, 
which must have cost many a smile to the intending 
romancer who was keen about his work. It appears 
to me as little to the point as the equally celebrated 
distinction between the novel and the romance — 
to answer as little to any reality. There are bad 
novels and good novels, as there are bad pictures 
and good pictures ; but that is the only distinction 



THE ART OF FICTION. 69 

in -which I see any meaning, and I can as little 
imagine speaking of a novel of character as I can 
imagine speaking of a picture of character. "When 
one says picture, one says of character ; when one 
says novel, one says of incident, and the terms may 
be transposed. What is character but the deter- 
mination of incident? What is incident but the 
illustration of character ? What is a picture or a 
novel that is not of character ? What else do we 
seek in it and find in it ? It is an incident for a 
woman to stand up with her hand resting on a 
table and look out at you in a certain way ; or, if 
it be not an incident, I think it will be hard to 
say what it is. At the same time it is an expres- 
sion of character. If you say you don't see it 
(character in that — allons done !) this is exactly 
what the. artist, who has reasons of his own for 
thinking he does see it, undertakes to show you. 
When a young man makes up his mind that he has 
not faith enough, after all, to enter the church, as 
he intended, that is an incident, though you may 
not hurry to the end of the chapter to see whether 
perhaps he does n't change once more. I do not 
say that these are extraordinary or startling inci- 
dents. I do not pretend to estimate the degree of 
interest proceeding from them, for this will depend 
upon the skill of the painter. It sounds almost 
puerile to say that some incidefits are intrinsically 
much more important than others, and I need not 
take this precaution, after having professed my sym- 



70 THE AET OP FICTION. 

pathy for the major ones, in remarking that the 
only classification of the novel that I can under- 
stand is into the interesting and the uninteresting. 

The novel and the romance, the novel of incident 
and that of character, — these separations appear 
to me to have been made by critics and readers for 
their own convenience, and to help them out of 
some of their difficulties, but to have little reality 
or interest for the producer, from whose point of 
view it is, of course, that we are attempting to con- 
sider the art of fiction. The case is the same with 
another shadowy categoiy, which Mr. Besant ap- 
parently is disposed to set up, — that of the " mod- 
ern English novel ; " unless, indeed, it be that in 
this matter he has fallen into an accidental confusion 
of standpoints. It is not quite clear whether he 
intends the remarks in which he alludes to it to be 
didactic or historical. It is as diflScult to suppose a 
person intending to write a modern English, as to 
suppose him writing an ancient English novel ; that 
is a label which begs the question. One writes the 
novel, one paints the picture of one's language and 
■^ of one's time, and calling it modern English, will 
,not, alas ! make the diflBcult task any easier. No 
more, unfortunately, will calling this or that work 
of one's fellow-artist a romance, — unless it be, of 
course, simply for the pleasantness of the thing, as, 
for instance, when Hawthorne gave this heading to 
his story of Blithedale. The French, who have 
brought the theory of fiction to remarkable com- 



THE ART OP FICTION. 71 

pleteness, have but one word for the novel, and 
have not attempted smaller things in it, that I can 
see, for that. I can think of no obligation to which 
the " romancer " would not be held equally with the 
novelist ; the standard of execution is equally high 
for each. Of course it is of execution that we are 
talking, — that being the only point of a novel that 
is open to contention. This is, perhaps, too often 
lost sight of, only to produce interminable confusions 
and cross-purposes. We must grant the artist his 
subject, his idea jhat the French o.aU^JnRjTmmf.Aj 
our criticism is applied only to what he makes of it. 
Naturally I do not mean that we are bound to like 
it or find it interesting ; in case we do not, our 
course is perfectly simple, to let it alone. We may 
believe that of a certain idea even the most sincere 
novelist can make nothing at all, and the event may 
perfectly justify our belief; but the failure will 
have been a failure to execute, and it is in the exe- 
cution that the fatal weakness is recorded. If we 
])retend to respect the artist at all we must allow 
him his freedom of choice, in the face, in particular 
cases, of innumerable presumptions that the choice 
will not fructify. Art derives a considerable part 
of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of 
presumptions, and some of the most interesting ex- 
periments of which it is capable are hidden in the 
bosom of common things. Gustave Flaubert has 
written a story about the devotion of a servant-girl 
to a parrot, and the production, highly finished as 



72 THE ART OF FICTION. 

it is, cannot on the whole be called a success. We 
are perfectly free to find it flat, but I think it might 
have been interesting ; and I, for my part, am ex- 
tremely glad he should have written it. It is a con- 
tribution to our knowledge of what can be done — 
or what cannot. Ivan Turgenieff has written a tale 
about a deaf and dumb serf and a lap-dog, and the 
thing is touching, loving, a little masterpiece. He 
struck the note of life where Gustave Flaubert 
missed it ; he flew in the face of a presumption and 
achieved a victory. 

Nothing, of course, will ever take the place of the 
good old fashion of " liking " a work of art or not 
liking it ; the more improved criticism will not abol- 
ish that primitive, that ultimate, test. I mention 
this to guard myself from the accusation of intimat- 
ing that the idea, the subject, of a novel or a picture 
does not matter. It matters, to my sense, in the 
J highest degree, and if I might put up a prayer it 
would be that artists should select none but the 
richest. Some, as I have already hastened to admit, 
are much more substantial than others, and it would 
be a happily arranged world in which persons in- 
tending to treat them should be exempt from con- 
fusions and mistakes. This fortunate condition 
will arrive only, I fear, on the same day that critics 
become purged from error. Meanwhile, I repeat, 
we do not judge the artist with fairness unless we 
say to him : " Oh, I grant you your starting-point, 
because if I did not I should seem to prescribe to 



THE AET OF FICTION. 73 

you, and heaven forbid I should take that responsi- 
bility. If I pretend to tell you what you must not 
take, you will call upon me to tell you then what 
you must take ; in which case I shall be nicely 
caught ! Moreover, it is n't till I have accepted 
your data that I can begin to measure you. I have 
the standard ; I judge you by what you propose, 
and you must look out for me there. Of course I 
may not care for your idea at all ; I may think it 
sUly, or stale, or unclean ; in which case I wash my 
hands of you altogether. I may content myself 
with believing that you will not have succeeded in 
being interesting, but I shall, of course, not attempt 
to demonstrate it, and you will be as indifferent to 
me as I am to you. I needn't remind you that 
there are all sorts of tastes ; who can know it better ? 
Some people, for excellent reasons, don't like to 
read about carpenters ; others, for reasons even bet- 
ter, don't like to read about courtesans. Many 
object to Americans. Others (I believe they are 
mainly editors and publishers) won't look at Ital- 
ians. Some readers don't like quiet subjects ; others 
don't like bustling ones. Some enjoy a complete 
illusion ; others revel in a complete deception. They 
choose their novels accordingly, and if they don't 
care about your idea they won't, a fortiori, care 
about your treatment." 

So that it comes back very quickly, as I have 
said, to the liking ; in spite of M. Zola, who reasons 
less powerfully than he represents, and who will 



74 THE Art of fictioiJ. 

not reconcile himself to this absoluteness of taste, 
thinking that there are certain things that people 
ought to like, and that they can he made to like. 
I am quite at a loss to imagine anything (at any 
rate in this matter of fiction) that people ought to 
like or to dislike. Selection will be sure to take 
care of itself, for it has a constant motive behind it. 
That motive is simply experience. As people feel 
life, so they will feel the art that is most closely 
related to it. This closeness of relation is what we 
should never forget in talking of the effort of the 
novel. Many people speak of it as a factitious, 
artificial form, a product of ingenuity, the business 
of which is to alter and arrange the things that 
surround us, to translate them into conventional, 
traditional moulds. This, however, is a view of the 
matter which carries us but a very short way, con- 
demns the art to an eternal repetition of a few 
familiar cliches, cuts short its development, and 
leads us straight up to a dead wall. Catching the 
very note and trick, the strange irregular rhythm of 
life, that is the attempt whose strenuous force keeps 
Fiction upon her feet. In proportion as in what she 
offers us we see life without rearrangement, do we 
feel that we are touching the truth ; in proportion 
as we see it with rearrangement do we feel that we 
are being put off with a substitute, a compromise 
_and convention. It is not uncommon to hear an 
extraordinary assurance of remark in regard to this 
matter of rearranging, which is often spoken of as 



THE AET OP FICTIOK. <^ 

if it were the last word of art. Mr. Besant seems 
to me in danger of falling into this great error with 
his rather unguarded talk about " selection." Art is 
essentially selection, but it is a selection whose main 
care is to be typical, to be inclusive. For many_ 
people art means rose-colored windows, and selec- 
tion means picking a bouquet for Mrs. Grundy. 
They will tell you glibly that artistic considerations 
have nothing to do with the disagreeable, with the 
ugly; they will rattle off shallow commonplaces 
about the province of art and the limits of art, till 
you are moved to some wonder in return as to the 
province and the limits of ignorance. It appears 
to me that no one can ever have made a seriously 
artistic attempt without becoming conscious of an 
immense increase — a kind of revelation — of free- 
dom. One perceives, in that case — by the light of 
a heavenly ray — that the province of art is all life, 
all feeling, all observati on, all vi sion ., As MrT^e^ 



'. sanj^so justlyjHHinates, it is all exp^irience. That 
is a sufficient answer to those who maintain that it 
must not touch the painful, who stick into its divine 
unconscious bosom little prohibitory inscriptions on 
the end of sticks, such as we see in public gardens — 
" It is forbidden to walk on the grass ; it is forbidden 
to touch the flowers ; it is not allowed to introduce 
dogs, or to remain after dark ; it is requested to 
keep to the right." The young aspirant in the line 
of fiction, whom we continue to imagine, will do 
nothing without taste, for in that case his freedom 



^ THE AET OF PIClIOlf. 

would be of little use to him ; but the first advan- 
tage of his taste will be to reveal to him the absur- 
dity of the little sticks and tickets. If he have 
taste, I must add, of course he will have ingenuity, 
and my disrespectful reference to that quality just 
now was not meant to imply that it is useless in 
fiction. But it is only a secondary aid ; the first is 
a vivid sense of reality. 

Hr. Besant has some remarks on the question of 
" the story," which I shall not attempt to criticise, 
though they seem to me to contain a singular am- 
biguity, because I do not think I understand them. 
I cannot see what is meant by talking as if there 
were a part of a novel which is the story and part 
of it which for mystical reasons is not — unless in- 
deed the distinction be made in a sense in which it 
is difficult to suppose that anyone should attempt 
to convey anything. " The stoiy," if it represents 
anything, represents the subject, the idea, the data 
of the novel ; and there is surely no " school " — 
Mr. Besant speaks of a school — which urges that a 
novel should be all treatment and no subject. There 
must assuredly be something to treat ; every school 
is intimately conscious of that. This sense of the 
story being the idea, the starting-point, of the novel, 
is the only one that I see in which it can be spoken 
of as something different from its organic whole ; 
and since, in proportion as the work is successful, 
the idea permeates and penetrates it, informs and 
animates it, so that every word and every punctua- 



THE AKT OF FICTIOX. 77 

tion-point contribute directly to the expression, in 
that proportion do we lose our sense of the story- 
being a blade which may be drawn more or less out 
of its sheath. The story and the novel, the idea 
and the form, are the needle and thread, and I never 
heard of a guild of tailors who recommended the 
use of the thread without the needle or the needle 
without the thread. Mr. Besant is not the only 
critic who may be observed to have spoken as if 
there were certain things in life which constitute 
stories and certain others which do not. I find the 
same odd implication in an entertaining article in 
the Pall Mall Gazette, devoted, as it happens, to 
Mr. Besant's lecture. "The story is the thing!" 
says this graceful writer, as if with a tone of 
opposition to another idea. I should think it was, 
as every painter who, as the time for " sending in " 
his picture looms in the distance, finds himself still 
in quest of a subject — as every belated artist, not 
fixed about his donnee, will heartily agree. There 
are somfe subjects which speak to us, and others 
which do not, but he would be a clever man who 
should undertake to give a rule by which the story 
and the no-story should be known apart. It is im- 
possible (to me at least) to imagine any such rule 
which shall not be altogether arbitrary. The writer 
in the Pall Mall opposes the delightful (as I sup- 
pose) novel of " Margot la Balafi-ee " to certain tales 
in which " Bostonian nymphs " appear to have " re- 
jected English dukes for psychological reasons." I 



78 THE ART or FICTION. 

am not acquainted with the romance just designated, 
and can scarcely forgive the Pall Mall critic for not 
mentioning the name of the author; but the title 
appears to refer to a lady who may have received a 
scar in some heroic adventure. I am inconsolable 
at not being acquainted with this episode, but am 
utterly at a loss to see why it is a story when the 
rejection (or acceptance) of a duke is not, and why 
a reason, psychological or other, is not a subject 
when a cicatrix is. They are all particles of the 
multitudinous life with which the novel deals, and 
surely no dogma which pretends to make it lawful 
to touch the one and unlawful to touch the other 
will stand for a moment on its feet. It is the 
special picture that must stand or fall, according as 
it seems to possess truth or to lack it. Mr. Besant 
does not, to my sense, light up the subject by inti- 
mating that a story must, under penalty of not 
being a story, consist of "adventures." Why of 
adventures more than of green spectacles? He 
mentions a category of impossible things, and 
among them he places " fiction without adventure." 
Why without adventure more than without matri- 
mony, or celibacy, or parturition, or cholera, or 
hydropathy, or Jansenism? This seems to me to 
bring the novel back to the hapless little role of 
being an artificial, ingenious thing — bring it down 
from its large, free character of an immense and 
exquisite correspondence with life. And what is 
adventure, when it comes to that, and by what sign 



THE ART OF FICTION. 79 

is the listening pupil to recognize it ? It is an ad- 
venture — an immense one — for me to write this 
little article ; and for a Bostonian nymph to reject 
an English duke is an adventure only less stirring, 
I should say, than for an English duke to be rejected 
by a Bostonian nymi^h. I see dramas within dramas 
in that, and innumerable points of view. A psycho- 
logical reason is, to my imagination, an object ador- 
ably pictorial ; to catch the tint of its complexion — 
I feel as if that idea might inspire one to Titian- 
esque efforts. There are few things more exciting 
to me, in short, than a psychological reason, and 
yet, I protest, the novel seems to me the most mag- 
nificent form of art. I have just been reading, at 
the same time, the delightful story of "Treasure 
Island," by Mr. Robert "Louis Stevenson, and the 
last tale from M. Edmond de Goncourt, which is 
entitled " Cherie." One of these works treats of 
murders, mysteries, islands of dreadful renown, 
hairbreadth escapes, miraculous coincidences and 
buried doubloons. The other treats of a little 
French girl who lived in a fine house in Paris 
and died of wounded sensibility because no one 
would marry her. I call " Treasure Island " delight- 
ful, because it appears to me to have succeeded 
wondei-fully in what it attempts ; and I venture to 
bestow no epithet upon " Cherie," which strikes me 
as having failed in what it attempts — that is, in 
tracing the development of the moral consciousness 
of a child. But one of these productions strikes 



80 THE ART OF FICTIOK. 

me as exactly as much of a novel as the other, and 
as having a " story " quite as much. The moral con- 
sciousness of a child is as much a part of life as the 
islands of the Spanish Main, and the one sort of 
geography seems to me to have those " surprises " of 
which Mr. Besant speaks, quite as much as the other. 
For myself (since it comes back in the last resort, as 
I say, to the preference of the individual), the picture 
of the child's experience has the advantage that I 
can at successive steps (an immense luxury, near to 
the " sensual pleasure " of which Mr. Besant's critic 
in the Pall Mall speaks) say Yes or No, as it may 
be, to what the artist puts before me. I have been 
a child, but I have never been on a quest for a 
buried treasure, and it is a simple accident that 
with M. de Goncourt I should have for the most 
part to say No. With George Eliot, when she 
painted that country, I always said Yes. 

The most interesting part of Mr. Besant's lecture 
is unfortunately the briefest passage — his very cur- 
sory allusion to the " conscious moral purpose " of 
the novel. Here again it is not very clear whether 
he is recording a fact or laying down a principle; 
it is a great pity that in the latter case he should 
not have developed his idea. This branch of the 
subject is of immense importance, and Mr. Besant's 
few words point to considerations of the widest 
reach, not to be lightly disposed of. He will have 
treated the art of fiction but superficially who is 
not prepared to go every inch of the way that these 



THE ART OF FICTION. 81 

considerations will carry him. It is for this reason 
that at the beginning of these remarks I was care- 
ful to notify the reader that ray reflections on so 
large a theme have no pretension to be exhaustive. 
Like Mr. Besant, I have left the question of the 
morality of the novel till the last, and at the last I 
find I have used up my space. It is a question 
surrounded with difficulties, as witness the very first 
that meets us, in the form of a definite question, on 
the threshold. Vagueness, in such a discussion, is 
fatal, and what is the meaning of your morality and 
your conscious moral purpose? Will you not de- 
fine your terms and explain how (a novel being a 
picture) a picture can be either moral or immoral ? 
You wish to paint a moral j)icture or carve a moral 
statue ; will you not tell us how you would set about 
it? We are discussing the Art of Fiction; ques- 
tions of art are questions (in the widest sense) of 
execution ; questions of morality are quite another 
affair, and will you not let us see how it is that you 
find it so easy to mix them up ? These things are 
so clear to Mr. Besant that he has deduced from 
them a law which he sees embodied in English Fic- 
tion and which is " a truly admirable thing and a 
great cause for congratulation." It is a great cause 
for congratulation, indeed, when such thorny prob- 
lems become as smooth as silk. I may add that, 
in so far as Mr. Besant perceives that in point of 
fact English Fiction has addressed itself jarepon- 
derantly to these delicate questions, he will appear 



82 THE ART OF FICTION. 

to many people to have made a vain discovery. 
They will have been positively struck, on the con- 
trary, with the moral timidity of the usual English 
novelist ; with his (or with her) aversion to face the 
difficulties with which, on every side, the treatment 
of reality bristles. He is apt to be extremely sliy 
(whereas the picture that Mr. Besant draws is a pic- 
ture of boldness), and the sign of his work, for the 
most part, is a cautious silence on certain subjects. 
In the English novel (by which I mean the American 
as well), more than in any other, there is a tradi- 
tional difference between that which people know 
and that which they agree to admit that they know, 
that which they see and that which they speak of, 
that which they feel to be a part of life and that 
which they allow to enter into literature. There is 
the great diiJerence, in short, between what they 
talk of in conversation, and what they talk of 
in print. The essence of moral energy is to sur- 
vey the whole field, and I should directly reverse 
Mr. Besant's remark, and say, not that the English 
novel has a purpose, but that it has a diffidence. 
To what degree a purpose in a work of art is a 
source of corruption I shall not attempt to inquire ; 
the one that seems to me least dangerous is the pur- 
pose of making a perfect work. As for our novel, 
I may say, lastly, on this score, that, as we find it 
in England to-day, it strikes me as addressed in a 
large degree to " young people," and that this in 
itself constitutes a presumption that it will be 



THE AET OF FICTION. 83 

rather shy. There are certain things which it is 
generally agreed not to discuss, not even to men- 
tion, before young people. That is very well, but 
the absence of discussion is not a symptom of the 
moral passion. The purpose of the English novel 
— "a truly admirable thing, and a great cause for 
congratulation " — strikes me, therefore, as rather 
negative. 

There is one point at which the moral sense and 
the artistic sense lie very near together ; that is, in 
the light of the very obvious truth that the deepest 
quality of a work of art will always be the quality 
of the mind of the producer. In proportion as that 
mind is rich and noble, will the novel, the picture, 
the statue, partake of the substance of beauty and 
truth. To be constituted of such elements is, to 
my vision, to have purpose enough. No good novel 
will ever proceed from a superficial mind; that 
seems to me an axiom which, for the artist in fiction, 
will cover all needful moral ground ; if the youthful 
aspirant take it to heart, it wUl illuminate for him 
many of the mysteries of "purpose." There are 
many other useful things that might be said to him, 
but I have come to the end of my article, and can 
only touch them as I pass. The critic in the Pall 
Mall Gazette, whom I have already quoted, draws 
attention to the danger, in speaking of the art of 
fiction, of generalizing. The danger that he has in 
mind is rather, I imagine, that of particularizing ; 
for there are some comprehensive remarks which, in 



84 THE AET OF FICTION. 

addition to those embodied in Mr. Besant's sugges- 
tive lecture, might, without fear of misleading him, 
be addressed to the ingenuous student. I should 
remind him first of the magnificence of the form 
that is open to him, whicli offers to sight so few 
restrictions and such innumerable opportunities. 
The other arts, in comparison, appear confined and 
hampered ; the various conditions under which they 
are exercised are so rigid and definite. But the 
only condition that I can think of attaching to the 
composition of the novel is, as I have already said, 
that it be interesting. This freedom is a splendid 
privilege, and the first lesson of the young novelist 
is to learn to be worthy of it. "Enjoy it as it 
deserves," I should say to him ; " take possession of 
it, explore it to its utmost extent, reveal it, rejoice 
in it. All life belongs to you, and don't listen either 
to those who would shut you up into corners of it 
and tell you that it is only here and there that art 
inhabits, or to those who would persuade you that • 
this heavenly messenger wings her way outside of 
life altogether, breathing a superfine air and turning 
away her head from the truth of things. ^ There is 
no impression of life, no manner of seeing it and 
feeling it, to which the plan of the novelist may not 
offer a place ; you have only to remember that 
talents so dissimilar as those of Alexandre Dumas 
and Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Gustavo 
Flaubert, have worked in this field with equal glory. 
Don't think too much about optimism and pessim- 



THE ART OF FICTION. 85 

ism ; try and catch the color of life itself. In 
Franco to-day we see a prodigious effort (that of 
Emile Zola, to whose solid and serious work no ex- 
plorer of the capacity of the novel can allude with- 
out respect), we see an extrordinary effort, vitiated 
by a spirit of pessimism on a narrow basis. M. 
Zola is magnificent, but he strikes an English reader 
as ignorant ; he has an air of working in the dark ; 
if he had as much light as energy, his results would 
be of the highest value. As for the aberrations of 
a shallow optimism, the ground (of English fiction 
especially) is strewn with their brittle particles as 
with broken glass. If you must indulge in conclu- 
sions, let them have the taste of a wide knowledge. 
Remember that your first duty is to be as complete 
as possible — to make as perfect a work. Be 
generous and delicate, and then, in the vulgar 
phrase, go in ! " 

Henry James. 



CUPPLE6 A HURD. THE ALGONQUIN PRESS, BOSTON, 



Y= Bookworme 




Y« Olde Colonial Time 



Extracts from 

Cupples & Hurd's List, 

Boston. 



The Algonquin Press Library. 

Pictures of American Life and Character, Past and 
Present. 

Each complete in 07ie volume^ cr. 8v0t clothe elegant. 
I. 

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A NEW ENGLAND 
FA.RM HOUSE. By N. H. Chamberlain. Illustrated. Third 
edition. $1.50. 

A hook that will take its place, on the shelves of the library , by the 
side of " The Vicar of Wakefield.''* Born and bred on Cape Cod, tlie 
author, at the winter firesides of country people very conservative of 
old English customs now gone, heard curious talk of kings, Puritan 
ministers, the war and precedent struggle of our Revolution, and 
touched a race of jnen and women now passed away. He also heard, 
chiefly from ancient women, the traditions of ghosts, witches, and In- 
dians, as they are preserved, and to a degree believed, by honest Chris- 
tian folk, in the very teeth of modern progress . These things are em- 
bodied in this book. 

II. 

THE SPHINX IN AUBREY PARISH. By N. H. 

Chamberlain. Illustrated. $1.50. 

The i?istantaneotis popularity of ^' A New England Farm House," 
the author's first venture in the field of fiction (which has been read 
and re-read by all classes, with ati eagerness little short of that which 
hailed the appearance of '* Scarlet Letter " a generation ago), has led 
the publishers to induce Mr. Chamberlain to consent to a companion 
volume. Wholly distinct fro-m tliat first hook in its plot, scenery, aTtd 
location, it will be found as interesting, aTui equally as strong in its 
animation and sustained energy of action, 

III. 

OLD NEW ENGLAND DAYS : A Story of True Life. 
By Sophie M. Damon. Illustrated. Fourth edition. $1.25. 

IV. 

AUNT PEN'S AMERICAN NIECES AT BLEDISLOE. 

By Ada M. Trotter. Illustrated. Second Edition. $1.50. 
V. 

AROUND THE GOLDEN DEEP. A Romance of the 

Sierras. By A. P. Reeder. $1.50. 

VI. 

CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER. A Romance of a branch 
of Roses. Un press. 

VII. 

AN ALIEN FROM THE COMMONWEALTH. The 

Romance of an odd young man. [/« press. 

VIII. 

A WINTER EVENING'S TALE. A Californian Ro- 
mance. Vn press. 



Recent Publicatiom 

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PUBLISHERS, GENERAL BOOKSELLERS, AND 
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*** r^OTE. — /?/ order to inspire the correct delivery of the actual works ^ or 
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or Postal order for the a7noit?Uy luuh a copy of their complete catalogue. 

THE AMERICAN TAUCHNITZ SERIES. 

Square i6mo. Paper covers, 50 cents. Cloth, $ i.oo. 

I. 

Miss Frances Merley: 

A Novel. By John Elliot Curran. 420 pages. 
The first important work of an author familiar to American readers by his 
remarkable sketches to Scrzbner^s and other magazines. 

II. 

Autobiography of a New England Farm House: 

A Romance of the Cape Cod Lands. By N. H. Chamberlain. 380 pages. 
A Jiovel of singular power and beauty^ great originality and rugged force. 
Bom and bred on Cape Cod, the author, at the winter firesides of country 
people, very conservative of ancient English customs now gone, heard curious 
.alk of kings, Puritan ministers, the war and precedent struggle of our Revolu- 
tion, and touched a race of men and women now passed away. He also heard, 
chiefly from ancient women, the traditions of ghosts, witches and Indians, as 
♦hey are preserved, and to a degree believed, by honest Christian folk, in the 
'•try teeth of modem progress. These things are embodied in this book. 

OTHER VOLUMES OF THIS SERIES IN PREPARATION. 



A SUMMER CRUISE ON THE COAST OF NEW ENG- 
LAND. By Robert Carter. With an Iniroductioji by Rossitek 
Johnson. i2mo. Cloth, with Map. $1.50. 
A new edition of one of the most fascinating of salt-water yarns, full oi 
genial humor, vivid word-painting, accurate information, and practical ''wrink- 
les." A Classic by reason of the esteem in which it is held by yachtsmen, and 
is a literary production equal to anything of the kind in the Anglo-Saxon 
tongue. 

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A New Book by W. H. H. Murray. 

DAYLIGHT LAND. Theexperieaces, incidents, and adventures, humorouH 
and otherwise, wliich befell Judge John Doe, Tourist, of San Francisco ; 
Mr Cephas Pepperell, Capitalist, of Boston; Colonel Goffe, tiie Man 
from New Hampshire, and divers others, in their Parlor-Car Excuioion over 
Prairie and Mountain ; as recorded and set forth by W. H. H. Murray. 
Superbly illustrated with 150 cuts in various colors by the best artists. 

Contents; — Introduction — The Meeting — A Breakfast — A Very Hopefu' 
Man — The Big Nepigon Trout — The Man in the Velveteen Jacket — The 
Capitalist — Camp at Rush Lake — Big Game — A Strange Midnight Ride 
— Banff — Sunday among the Mountains — Nameless Mountains — The Great 
Glacier — The Hermit of Frazer Canon — Fish and Fishing in British Colum- 
bia — Vancouver City — Parting at Victoria. 

8vo. 350 pages. Unique paper covers, $2.50; half leather binding, $3.50. 

Mr. Murray has chosen the north-western side of the continent for the scene 
of this book ; a region of country which is little known by the average reader, 
but which in its scenery, its game, and its vast material and undeveloped 
resources, supplies the author with a subject which has not been trenched upon 
even by the magazines, and which he Jias treated in that lively and spirited 
manner for which he is especially gifted. The result is a volume full of novel 
information of the country, humorous and pathetic incidents, vivid descriptions 
of its magnificent scenery, shrewd forecasts of its future wealth and greatness 
when developed, illustrated and embellished with such lavishness and artistic 
elegance as has never before been attempted in any similar work in this coun- 
try. 

ADIRONDACK TALES. By W. H. H. Murray. Illustrated. i2mo. 
300 pages. $1.25. 

Containing John Norton's Christmas — Henry Herbert's Thanksgiving — A 
Strange Visitor — Lost in the Woods — A Jolly Camp — Was it Suicide? — 
The Gambler's Death — The Old Beggar's Dog— The Ball — Who was he ? 

Short stories in Mr. Murray's best vein — humorous; pathetic; full of the 
spirit of the woods. 

HOW DEACON TUBMAN AND PARSON WHITNEY KEPT 
NEW YEARSj and other Stories. By W. H. H. Murray. i6mo. 
Illustrated. $1.25. 

A HEART REGAINED. By Carmen Sylva (Queen of Roumania) 
Translated by Mary A. Mitchell. Fcap. Svo. Cloth. $1.00. 
A charming story by this talented authoress, told in her vivid, picturesque 
manner, and showing how patient waiting attains to ultimate reward. 

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Harvard Univers.ty. 

HARVARD, THE FIRST AMERICAN UNIVERSITY : ITS HIS- 
TORY IN EARLY DAYS- By G. G. Bush. Choicely illustrated, 
with rare and curious engravings. Large Paper ^ 4to, $5.00 ; i6mo, 
Roxburgh binding, cloth, $1.25. 
Printed in the antique style ; a very careful and beautiful piece of book- 
making, and a valuable contribution to the early history of education in our 
country, 

HARVARD UNIVERSITY IN THE WAR OF l'861-1865. A 

record of services rendered in the army and navy of the United States by 
the graduates and students of Harvard College and the professional 
schools. By F. H. Brown. 8vo. With index. Cloth, gilt top, rough 
edges. $4.00. 

HOMES OF OUR FOREFATHERS. A selection of views of the 
most interesting Historical Buildings now remaining in New England, 
and consisting of four volumes, each independent of the others. About 
three hundred illustrations in the four volumes from original drawings 
taken on the spot by E. Whitefield. 
Each volume is royal Svo, bevelled boards, gilt edges, $6.00 per vol., or 

$20.00 for the entire work. The first, third, and fourth volumes are now ready, 

and the other will soon be completed. 

Vol. I., Eastern Massachusetts; Vol. II., Western Massachusetts; Vol. III., 

Connecticut and Rhode Island; Vol. IV., Maine, New Hampshire, and 

Vermont. 

Edited by Ruskin. 

THE STORY OF IDA- By Frances Alexander (Francesca). Edited, 
with preface, by John Ruskin. With frontispiece by the author. i6mo. 
Limp cloth, red edges. Eleventh thousand. 75 cents. 

Williams on the Care of the Eye. 

OUR EYES AND HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THEM. 
By Henry W, Williams, M. D. lamo. Cloth, red edges. $1.00. 
The fact that the first edition of this work was some time since exhausted, 
and tliat two editions of it have been published in London (without the know- 
ledge and consent of the author), permits him to hope that its republication, 
in a revised form, may be acceptable to those who wish to know what should 
be done and what avoided in order that the sight, the most important of our 
senses, may be enjoyed and preserved. — Preface. 

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ACTS OF THE ANTI-SLAVERY APOSTLES. By Parker 

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THE STORY OF ARCHER ALEXANDER, FROM SLAVERY 
TO FREEDOM. By W. G. Eliot. Illustrated. i6mo. Cloth. 90 cents. 

With 32 Illustrations and Maps. 

THE WINNII»EG COUNTRY. A record of a joumey of 3500 miles by 
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Works About Boston. 

RAMBLES IN OLD BOSTON, NEW ENGLAND. ByEowARo 
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from original drawings by G. R. Tolman. Second edition. Large paper, 
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cloth sides, uncut edges, $6.00. 

ANTIQUE VIEWS OF YE TOWN OF BOSTON. By James H. 
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A DIRECTORY OF THE CHARITABLE AND BENEFICENT 
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THE EVACUATION OFBOSTON. By George E. Ellis, D.D., LL.D. 
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NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF THE OLD STATE HOUSE 
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Bandelier's Mexico. 
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THE POEMS OF ALEXANDER PUSHKIN. Translated from the 
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Panin. i vol. i6mo. Bound in yellow satin and white vellum, with an 
appropriate design and gilt top. Price, $2.00. 

This is a solitaire and a masterpiece. Pushkin is by far the most celebrated 
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THOUGHTS- By Ivan Panin. First and second series (sold separately). 

i6mo. Cloth. Price, 50 cents each. 

" Good thoughts and wise precepts." — Boston Advertiser. 

" An expert in pithy expression." — Boston Globe. 

" The truth is, this little volume in a small compass is a treasury of thought. " 
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ANNOUCHKA. A novel. By Ivan Tourgueneff. i6mo. Cloth. $1.00. 

POEMS IN PROSE. By Ivan Tourgueneff. Portrait. i2mo. Cloth, 
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Works relating to Music and the Drama. 
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Anecdote and sparkling reminiscences concerning famous actors and 
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whose personality still lingers in the memory of the theatre-goer of twenty 
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this book without fwtke. 

AN ACTOR'S TOUR; OR SEVENTY THOUSAND MILES 
WITH SHAKESPEARE. By Daniel E. Bandmann. With portrait 
after W. M. Hunt. i2mo. Cloth. $1.50. 

ADELAIDE PHILIPPS, THE AMERICAN SONGSTRESS- A 

Memoir. Second edition. With portrait. i2mo. Cloth, f i.oo. 

RICHARD WAGNER, AND HIS POETICAL WORKS, FROM 
'* RIENZI " TO " PARSIFAL." Translated from the French of Ju- 
dith Gautier (L. S, J.). With portrait. i2mo. Cloth. $1.00. 

PAYNE (JOHN HOWARD). ;By C. H. Brainard. A Biographical 
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Books about Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: PHILOSOPHER AND SEER. By 
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A book about Emeraonj written by the one man who stood nearest to him of 
ail men. It is an original and vital contribution to Emersoniana ; like a portrait 
of one of the old masters painted by his own brush. 

"A beautiful little book." — Boston Transcript. 

"This book, more than any other which Alcott published, shows his highest 
quality as a writer," — Boston Unitarian. 

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: HIS MATERNAL ANCESTORS, 
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Haskins, D.D. With illustrations reproduced from portraits and sil- 
houettes never before made public, izmo. Large paper, $5.00; cloth, $1. so- 
Printed in the antique style, and a very choice book. The illustrations are 
exceedingly interesting, while the work itself throws unique and valuable side- 
lights on the life and character of its subject. 

THEOPTIMISM OF RALPH WALDO EMERSON. By William F. 
Dana. i6mo. Cloth. 75 cents. 
An essay of reach, insight, and ripeness of judgment, showing the teaching 
of Emerson's philosophy in terse, well-chosen language. One of the best of 
many critical expositions. . 

THE INFLUENCE OF RALPH WALDO EMERSON. By W. R. 

Thaver. Svo. Paper, go. 50. 

An eulogy of his work by one qualified to speak with authority by reason of 
his studies of philosophic systems, who compares Emerson's solution of the 
problems of the Infinite with those propounded by other great minds. 

LONGFELLOW AND EMERSON. The Massachusetts Historical 
Society's Memorial Volume, with portraits. Quarto boards, $z.oo ; cloth, 
S2.50. 
Containing the addresses and eulogies by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, 
Charles E. Norton, Dr. G. E. Ellis, and others, together with Mr. Emerson's 
tribute to Thomas Carlyle, and his earlier and much-sough t-f or addresses on 
Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Illustrated with two full-page portraits in 
albertype after Mr. Notman's photograph of Mr. Longfellow, and Mr. Hawes's 
celebrated photograph of Mr. Emerson, taken in 1855, so highly prized by col- 
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ThreeThrilling Novels in the Style of the Modern French 
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MR. AND MRS. MORTON. A Novel, gth thousand. i2mo. Cloth. 
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event of so startling a nature that the reader's attention is at once arrested and 
held to the end. Without revealing the plot of the book, we can say that it 
concerns the marvellous effects of atavism and the influence of heredity, and is 
totally unexpected, yet probable withal. Lucidly and concisely written, witli- 
out unnecessary verbiage, 

SILKEN THREADS: A DETECTIVE STORY. By the Author 
of " Mr. and Mrs. Morton." i6mo. Cloth. $1.25. 

One of the best stories of its kind that has appeared of late, and worthy ^n 
its construction and elaboration of detail, to be placed beside Gaborian and Du 
Boisgobey, while it has not that tediousness which sometimes renders these 
authors distasteful to American readers. Wilkie Collins never invented a more 
ingeniously constructed plot, or told it in a more interesting way. 

" Construction of work is admirable, the denouement very cleverly developed. 
. . . Neither more nor less than 'that bright consummate flower,' genius, re- 
appearing in the department of detection — the latest Vidocq."— Boston Globe. 

THE DISK: A TALE OF TWO PASSIONS. By E. A.Robinson 
and George A. Wall. i2mo. Cloth. $1.00. 
This powerful and stirring novel, the plot of which is entirely original, 
resembles nothing hitherto published, and the demand for it continues unabated. 
It approadies more nearly the wonderful romances of Jules Verne in intricacy 
of plot, in wealth of scientific detail and vivid imagination, than any book now 
before the public; even surpassing him in the marvellous developments of science 
suggested by the ingenious pen of its authors. It is, as its name denotes, \ 
narrative of the supreme power of the two passions of love and science upon 
different organizations, and is equally good in the charm of its love scenes and 
i.i the weirdness and power of its description of occult investigations. 

20RAH : A LOVE STORY OF MODERN EGYPT. Bv Elizabeth 
Balch. Cr. 8vo. Cloth elegant. $1.23. 

It is an excellent study of the political and social atmosphere surrounding 
cfiicial life in Cairo and Alexandria at the present day, with its underlying 
stratum of Oriental romanticism, and the constantly varying stream of Western 
influences which are slowly but surely shaping the destinies of the country. 

" Depicted with artistic power, and, as a love story, it is of absorbing interest. 
. . . Told with all the rich coloring of the East. " — Boston Home Journal. 

" Cleverly conceived and written." — Boston Globe. 

"Well worth t&didm^." —Julian Haivthorfte. 

"Shows a very keen observation and a marked descriptive faculty. ' — 
Churchman. , . _ . 

"Its very incongruities make it r^d^AAhlQ. — Philadeiphza Times. 

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Recent Fiction. 



Admirable in Quality. Thoroughly Interesting. Specially 
adapted for Public Libraries and Private Reading. 

Each volume substantially bound in Cloth. 



Stray Leaves from Newport. Wheeler . , , $i.5« 

The Monk's Wedding. By C. F, Meyer . . . 1.25 

Old New England Days. By Sophie M. Damon . . , 1.25 

Bledislob. By Ada M. Trotter . , . 1.50 

ZoRAH. By Elisabeth Balch . . , . . 1.25 

The Last Von Reckenburg. By Louise Francois . . 1.5a 

The Angel of the Village. By L. M. Ohorn 1.25 

How Deacon Tubman and Parson Whitney Spent New 

Year's. By W. H. H. Murray . . . . 1.25 

Mahaly Sawyer. By S. E. Douglass . . . -.25 

The Terrace of Mon Desir. A Russian Novel . . . 1.25 

Story of an Old New England Town. By Mrs. Greenough . i.oo 

Cape Cod Folks. By Sally P. McLean . 1.50 

Towhead. The Story of a Girl. By Sally P. McLean 1.50 

Some Other Folks. By Sally P. McLean . . . . . 1.50 

Simply a Love Story. By Philip Orne .... . . 1.25 

A Little Upstart. A Novel. By W. H. Rideing ... . 1.25 

Annouchka. By Ivan Tourgueneff. Translated by F. P. Abbott i.oo 

MdftNSHiNH. By F. A. Tupper i.oo 

The Love of a Lifetime. By Carroll Winchester .... i.oo 

From Madge to Margaret. By Carroll Winchester . . i.oo 

Mr. and Mrs. Morton. A Novel . . 1.25 

Silken Threads. By the author of " Mr. and Mrs. Morton." 

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Wheels and Whims. An Out of-Doors Story. Illustrated . . . 1.25 

One Among Many. By Mrs. H. B. Goodwin . . i.oo 

Christine's Fortune *' *' " . . . . 1.00 

Dr. Howell's Family " " " i.oo 

Our Party of Four. A Story of Travel. By Mrs. H. B. 

Goodwin ... i.oo 

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